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Chinese nitpicking on Tibetan democracy

June 22, 2010

By Dhundup Gyalpo
Tibet Sun
June 19, 2010

DHARAMSHALA, India -- If one were to go by the
recent barrage of official Chinese rhetoric, the
elections held by the Central Tibetan
Administration are anything but democratic. Their
reason for this: the National Democratic Party of
Tibet (NDPT), which they claim is the "only
political party of the Dalai clique," has already
selected a list of candidates for the coming
elections of Kalon Tripa and Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.

In the latest article published by People’s
Daily, an organ of the Communist Party of China,
it is claimed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s
recent comments on democratic elections in exile
are only "skin deep." The article, titled Dalai
Clique’s democratic lies, turned out to be a
shoddy translation of the original in Chinese
published earlier by China Ethnic News.

The assertion by the author of the original
article, Du Xinyu, that NDPT is "the only
political party of Dalai clique" is of course
open to debate. What is even more absurd is the
suggestion that NDPT, by virtue of being "the
only political party of Dalai clique”, is the one
party that declares nominations for exile
elections. The underlying message apparently is a
misperception, if not deliberate misinformation,
based entirely on their own experience of
pseudo-elections in which people are allowed to
vote only on candidates hand-picked by the Communist Party.

Those familiar with the rituals of electioneering
in exile would also know about the conspicuous
absence of public hustings and competing
political parties that are the central
characteristic of elections in democratic
countries. (This may have been a reason why Kalon
Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche once explained the
Tibetan polity as "a partyless democracy.")

Notwithstanding the lack of political parties in
the usual sense of the term, the Tibetan
elections are not totally devoid of public
campaigning. The exile NGOs and
province/region-based associations that are
autonomous of government engage in their own
unique ways of canvassing for polls, a highlight
of which is the declaration of nominations,
usually by advertising them in the print media.

NGOs and region-based associations that usually
propose candidates for every election include
NDPT, Gu-Chu-Sum Movement, the associations of
the three traditional provinces of Tibet (Dotod,
Domed and Utsang) and their regional chapters, etc.

Furthermore, it would be pertinent to note that
even before NDPT made its nominations public, the
association of Domed (Amdo) province of Tibet has
already announced some 13 nominations for Kalon
Tripa. According to their announcement on 16
March 2010, later covered by Tibetan newspapers,
"In a special general meeting of the Domed
association held from 14-16 March 2010, the
executive heads and delegates of all the regional
chapters of the association have voted to propose
nominations for the election of Kalon Tripa in
2011. The following [13] candidates received the
highest number of votes. The photos and
biographies of these candidates will soon be posted on our website."

It is even more interesting to note that the
Dharamshala chapter of Domed association has
later proposed a different list of five
nominations for Kalon Tripa and 10 for the
Tibetan parliament. Many other NGOs and
associations are also expected to throw their
nominations into the ring for consideration.

This proposition of candidates is not merely
limited to NGOs and associations. Several
prominent Tibetans, like former Tibetan Supreme
Justice Commissioners, Kalons and MPs, have in
their individual capacities also proposed their
choice of nominations through the media. In fact,
even an ordinary Tibetan, or a group of them,
also propose candidates by advertising in the print media.

It would thus be wrong to suggest that NDPT, or
for that matter, the Tibetan administration,
carries any role in finalising the election
nominations. Every Tibetan election has a primary
round in which people are free to nominate any
candidate they deem fit. In the final round of
general elections, people vote on candidates
shortlisted from the outcome of primaries. Thus,
in a true democracy, there is no deciding factor
over and above the people’s vote.

The way Du Xinyu has spun this whole matter is,
to put simply, jaw-dropping. He is convinced to
the point of cockiness, that the forthcoming
Tibetan elections are headed for major failure.
He reveals that, of all the nominations proposed
by NDPT, one out of total three nominees for
Kalon Tripa and 24 out of 45 nominees for Tibetan
parliament have already "quitted the election."

The truth could not be more different. The reason
behind a majority of those who withdrew their
names from NDPT’s nominations is not because they
had refused to contest elections; it was rather
to avoid any possibility of conflict of interest.
The party president Chime Youngdrung clarified to
this writer that as many of the nominees are
already active members of other organisations,
they have decided not to contest elections
through or with support from NDPT. (It must
however be added that it was not unusual in the
past elections to see several organisations rooting for the same candidate.)

Another possible reason for withdrawals could
have been the mission statement of NDPT, which
also includes "to struggle for the restoration of
Tibet’s rightful independence." Those who
withdrew their names from NDPT’s list of
nominations could have done so as a statement of
their support to the policy of Middle-Way
Approach, which seeks to achieve genuine autonomy
for a Tibet within the People’s Republic of China.

In order to justify his bleak election forecast,
Du Xinyu also quoted some cooked-up figures of
abnormally low voter turnout in exile. According
to him, the 2006 parliamentary elections
registered a dismal turnout of 26.8% and
"considering the fact that a monk could have two
votes, the actual voting rate would be even lower."

According to the records of the Tibetan Election
Commission, the total number of people registered
(or eligible) to vote in the 2006 parliamentary
elections was 70,500. A total of 43,202 votes
were cast in the final election. Since the monks
and nuns are entitled to vote in two
constituencies, religious (each 2 seats) and
provincial (each 10 seats), in order to calculate
the actual number of people who have cast their
votes, we would have to deduct the votes cast for
religious seats. In other words, if we add up the
number of people who had voted in the three
provincial constituencies of Dotod, Domed and
Utsang (total 30 seats), North America (1 seat)
and Europe (2 seats), the actual figure would be
37,147, which means the turnout rate was 52.69%.

It must also be noted that thus far,
parliamentary seats have not been allocated for
Tibetans in Australia and in Asian countries like
Taiwan, Japan, Russia, etc. The Tibetan people in
these countries are however entitled to vote in the election of Kalon Tripa.

Furthermore, it is also pertinent that during the
2006 election, the popular expectations of a
record turnout did not materialize largely
because the poll was, due to certain unavoidable
circumstances, conducted at a time when the
majority of Tibetans were scattered across India
for the winter sweater business.

Generally speaking, the factors affecting turnout
in polls is a subject of extensive debate. A low
turnout can be attributed to a whole host of
issues ranging from socio-economic and cultural
factors, to institutional factors and modalities
of registration. Sometimes, even different
methods in measuring voter turnout can cause discrepancies in the count.

It was as such quite amusing to see Du Xinyu
propounding a whole new theory claiming that "The
voting rate is an important index for measuring
whether a government is a democratically-elected
one or not." Although the facts and figures cited
earlier should make it amply clear that the
turnout rate was significantly higher than what
Du Xinyu has claimed in his article, there is a
growing realization that the voter participation
should be improved. It is pertinent to point out
that the 2006 election of Kalon Tripa registered a turnout of only 44%.

It was as such quite amusing to see Du Xinyu
propounding a whole new theory claiming that:
"The voting rate is an important index for
measuring whether a government is a
democratically-elected one or not." Although the
facts and figures cited earlier should make it
amply clear that the turnout rate was
significantly higher than what Du Xinyu has
claimed in his article, there is a growing
realization that the voter participation should
be improved, particularly in the light of 2006
Kalon Tripa election which registered a turnout
of mere 44%. The incumbent Kalon Tripa Prof
Samdhong Rinpoche won that election with a
landslide majority of 29,216 votes (90.72%).

The fact that Tibetan polls are conducted in a
free, fair and transparent manner needs no
corroboration. Furthermore, the popular faith in
democratic processes, or for that matter, the
legitimacy of the Central Tibetan Administration,
has never been an issue for the Tibetan people.
Thus, the low rate of voter participation is
often summarily attributed to logistics, level of
political consciousness and at times, even to complacency.

As in times of all previous elections, we have
been recently witnessing more variety of efforts
from both the administration and NGOs aimed at
boosting voter participation. And of all measures
that could help in nudging the Tibetan people
towards the ballot stations, what could be more
powerful than giving them a dose of raw Chinese
propaganda slandering Tibetan democracy. In that
context, Du Xinyu deserves a pat on the back for
his vitriolic article, which is provoking
Tibetans to think about why they should vote.
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