Election answers; democracy questions

Chief Election Commissioner of the Central Tibetan Administration, Sonam Choephel Shosur, at his office in Dharamshala, India, on 1 July 2015.

Chief Election Commissioner of the Central Tibetan Administration, Sonam Choephel Shosur, at his office in Dharamshala, India, on 1 July 2015. File photo/Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

Tibet Sun Onlinenews, 29 July 2015

The terms of incumbent Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and the 15th Parliament members are coming to a close in early 2016. The Exile Tibetan Election Commission announced 18 October 2015 as the date for the preliminary round of voting, and 20 March 2016 for the final round of voting.

The campaigning has just begun, and the exile community is rife with discussions and debates on how to get the “best candidates” to the seat of Sikyong (Tibetan prime minister) or as members in the House of Parliament. The process of elections has always raised questions about Tibetan democracy. Of the two most fundamental and driving principles of democracy – freedom and equality – the second aspect of getting equal treatment for all citizens seems to be far removed in the Tibetan democracy. Likewise, once our representatives are elected to the House, they do not seem to have any obligations or be accountable to their electorate. Nobody votes for them on any issues, and the representatives hardly ever bother to consult their constituents about their stands on various issues.

Tibet Sun requested an interview with the Chief Election Commissioner of the Central Tibetan Administration, Sonam Choephel Shosur, for some answers.

Why are there two rounds of elections? Why not declare as winners the highest in Sikyong’s election and the top ten chosen for members of the Parliament from the first round?
The first round of election, the preliminary election, is for the individual’s nomination of their candidates for Sikyong and members of Parliament. Without nominations of candidates, it is not possible to elect or choose either Sikyong or MP [member of parliament].

Why is it important to have representatives for the five religious groups? How did this arrangement come about?
As you know our system of administration was based on democratic system of administration. As per the rules and regulations stipulated by the Electoral Statutory, four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional Bon faith have been given the right to elect their representatives for the Tibetan Parliament.

If this is important, there are groups like Jonang who are asking for their seats in the Parliament. Why is that not being considered? Why are the Tibetan Muslims not represented in the same way?
This will depend on whether amendments are made to the election rules and regulations.

An increasing number of people are raising the issue that monks and nuns have two votes each, while laypeople have one each. They feel that this is against the principle of “one man one vote” in a democratic system. What are your thoughts on this?
We do understand that there should be a one man one vote system, but according to our democratic system of administration, monks and nuns have an additional vote to elect the representatives of the religious schools for the Parliament.

It used to take more than a month to declare the results after the elections, and they were declared only in Dharamshala. Now the rules have changed. Results will be declared at the respective places where people cast their votes. What arrangements have you made to let everybody know the results from one central place, such as tibet.net, to give a breakdown of the voting?
If amendments were made on the election rules and regulation to declare the election result from one central place, than it will happen.

Why is it necessary to register to vote? Shouldn’t it be enough for a Tibetan to produce their up-to-date green book to vote? The number of Tibetans living in Tibetan settlements or even in other areas is well documented. This number of voting papers could be printed with a small margin added to make sure there wouldn’t be a shortage.
As per our election rules a bona-fide Tibetan male, female, monk, or nun, who is 18 years old is eligible to exercise his/her franchise. So it is very important to register their name in the voter list. For the upcoming elections, the registration period has been extended up to 15 August.

The members elected to the Parliament have never explicitly stated their stand such as Middle-way (Umaylam), Independence (Rangzen) or any other approach. In recent times, some members have expressed reservations about their support for Middle-way, and one member even withdrew his support for the Middle-way policy, causing political drama within the exile Tibetan community. Don’t you think that the candidates should make their stand clear so that people can make an informed decision? Couldn’t the election commission publish the candidate’s stand in their profiles?
In our election rules every candidate, whether for Sikyong or Member of Parliament, have the right to express their own stand to the public and also they can publish their stand on their profiles.

What was the workshop about that the Election Commission conducted a week ago?
We organised a Tibetan Election rules and regulations workshop to train the regional election officers to conduct the upcoming Tibetan General Elections. It was held from 18 to 21 July at the Tibetan Reception Centre in Dharamshala. Over 80 regional election officers from India, Nepal and Bhutan participated in this four-day workshop. They are the ones who are responsible and execute the elections at their respective places. Elections for all the elected bodies: the Local Assembly members and their chair and vice-chair persons, the Settlement Officer, and the members of the Regional Tibetan Freedom Movement are all held under their supervision.

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