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Aiming for the Highest Office of the Tibetan Government in Exile

June 15, 2010

London witnesses the first subtle Tibetan
election campaigning for the office of Kalon Tripa.
By Tsering Passang
Phayul (India)
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 11:01]

London, 29 May 2010 -- When an email circular
came through my inbox last week, I became quite
eager to meet and hear from the man himself –
many regard him as a serious and popular
candidate to the office of Kalon Tripa. The
Election of the 3rd Kalon Tripa is due to held in the spring of 2011.

Thanks to the early initiative of many Tibetans today know the
names of over 20 potential candidates for the
office of Kalon Tripa, otherwise known as the
Prime Minster of Tibetan Government in Exile.

Kasur Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, who I believe is a
serious leadership contender for the office of
Kalon Tripa, with a wealth of experience and
sound intellect in addition to the good
connection that he enjoys both within and beyond
the Tibetan Community, chose to stop-over in
London on his way from Romania to the States,
where he resides. He explained that the London
stop-over was to meet his old friends including
Mr Thubten Samdup, Representative of His Holiness
the Dalai Lama based at The Office of Tibet, in
addition to his planned engagement in Manchester,
which is home to one of the world’s biggest football clubs, Manchester United.

Tethong, a household name in the Tibetan
Community, has a very impressive C.V. in his
favour if he decides to stand for the Kalon Tripa
post, having already rendered his professional
service to the Tibetan people and for the cause
of Tibet in Dharamsala since 1960s. Fifteen years
ago, he moved to the US, where he still continues
to contribute untiringly in support of His
Holiness the Dalai Lama’s various initiatives,
through non-governmental organisations based there.

In the Tibetan Government in Exile he served as
Chairman of the Kashag (Tibetan Cabinet) and
Foreign Minister among other important positions
he held. Tethong was The Dalai Lama’s
Representative in the US, based in New York, and
later as His Holiness’ Special Representative to
Washington in 1970s and ‘80s. He was a founder
member of the Tibet Fund and the International
Campaign for Tibet, and also played a key role in
the resettlement programme of one thousand
Tibetan refugees from the Indian sub-continent to
the US in the early 1990s. Under the directive of
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in 1980 Tethong led
the Second Delegation to Tibet on a fact-finding
mission, as part of the first phase of
China-Tibet Dialogue. Among other pioneering
initiatives, he co-founded Tibetan Youth Congress
(TYC) and Sheja (Tibetan Language Newspaper).

This week, when he met with the small Tibetan
gathering at The Office of Tibet in London,
convened at short notice on 26th May by Tibetan
Community in Britain, Kasur Tenzin Namgyal
Tethong didn’t talk about general Tibetan
politics. Instead, he passionately shared
insights into the charitable work of The Dalai
Lama Foundation, for which he is currently
serving as the President. Despite spending just
over half an hour listening to him talking about
the work of The Dalai Lama Foundation and its
initiatives such as ‘The Missing Peace’, ‘Tibet
in Exile - Fifty Years’ and ‘Tibet Exile Lens’
projects, as soon as Q &A session began the
restless Tibetans in London jumped straight to
the inevitable question i.e. his candidacy for the office of Kalon Tripa.

There was no shortage of questions from the
floor. A Tibetan graduate and a compatriot from
Tibet expressed directly to Tethong that his
candidacy to the office of Kalon Tripa would make
a real difference and urged him to consider
joining the leadership contest. Aware that his
name is listed as a candidate on, a private initiative of
Representative Thubten Samdup, campaigned for by
his supporters, Tethong said that he would
respond to the support calls from the Tibetan people in due course.

Personally, I wish that the former Kalon
announces his candidacy for the office of Kalon
Tripa upfront and takes part in the leadership
contest proudly, as this could also add to the
embracing of Tibetan democracy, but subtle as any
Tibetan politician can be, Tethong carefully
chose his words and said, “The Kalon Tripa has
very big responsibilities,” and then added, “If
there is overwhelming public support from the
Tibetan people in the primary election, wanting
me to serve as the Kalon Tripa, then I’ve to
consider my position seriously.” Tethong quickly
emphasised that the leadership is “two-ways”,
meaning that public support would be so important
if he were to commit himself to the five-year term.

Tethong was asked about his approach towards the
resolution of Sino-Tibetan issue and also whether
he could work with Harvard graduate Dr Lobsang
Sangay, another strong and younger contender, in
the same government (as Kalon Tripa and Deputy
Kalon Tripa), should the situation arise, in
order to bring the Tibetan Movement to the next
level. Whilst not answering directly to the
possibility of working together in the same
government, Tethong expressed his high regard for
Dr Sangay and said that he knew him well.

On the question of finding a solution to the
‘revitalisation of large Tibetan settlement camps
and reversing the current trend of many young
Tibetans leaving their communities in order to
find employment elsewhere’, Tethong lauded the
current Kalon Tripa and Representative Thubten
Samdup’s plans to try some new initiatives
towards this end. He pointed out, though, that it
would be “unsustainable" and added, "Thousands of
young talented Tibetans graduate each year with
good qualifications and it’s not really practical
to make them stay in the settlements, where jobs
are scarce. Young people like to go to the towns
and cities and this is inevitable, especially in
our situation, and we cannot stop them leaving
the settlements. It would be more practical if we
try to find ways to match their skills and send
them to countries where they would be welcomed
and eventually this would help them in their
professional development and to the Tibetan
cause”. This was a good campaign pitch to win
votes from the younger generations, I thought. It
is certainly a different approach to the one
already being explored and undertaken by the
current Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche.

Recalling his previous public statements, Tethong
said, "Rangzen (Tibetan Independence) and Ume-Lam
(Middle-Way Approach) followers should not
criticise each others. Instead we should work
together for the main issue i.e. Tibet and
Tibetan people”. He said that the ‘Middle-Way
Approach’, which is the official stance of the
current Kalon Tripa, can be changed if the next
Kalon Tripa’s proposal for any possible new
solution to the Sino-Tibetan issue receives
strong backing from the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE).

With a small hint of possibly raising the
prospects of changing the current course of
action for Tibet’s future towards more
internationally acceptable term of
‘self-determination’ for the Tibetan people,
Tethong clarified and added, "The Tibetan
Parliament has supported ‘whatever means’ The
Dalai Lama chooses towards the resolution of the
Tibetan issue. The Parliament has not
specifically adopted the ‘Middle-Way Approach’ as
the legally binding policy, rather it has supported His Holiness’s position."

Whilst asking my own questions I raised that
Tethong la was engaging in "side campaigning"
rather than emerging forthrightly and campaign
for the office of Kalon Tripa. To this, in a
light hearted manner, the former Minister sort of
agreed by responding, “I suppose you could say
that but as I said before, I’m primarily here
because of the planned engagement in Manchester
and since I’m passing through London, I felt that
meeting my old friends and Tibetans in London would be a good thing."

Tibetans in London have been talking about the
Tibetan Leaders’ Debate, having recently
witnessed the UK General Election, and they are
now looking forward to hearing from other Tibetan
Kalon Tripa ‘candidates’. So, why not stop-over
in London to meet your old friends?

Tethong’s stop-over in London certainly sparked
the subtle Tibetan election campaign for the Kalon Tripa’s seat.

(Note: This article by Tsering Passang for Tsampa
Forum is part of Embracing Tibetan Democracy in Exile.)
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