Coronavirus: Voting threatened for Tibetans living in Europe

Exile Tibetan election campaign posters for the posts of Sikyong and members of the Tibetan Parliament are seen pasted at Tsuglakhag temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 13 December 2020.

Exile Tibetan election campaign posters for the posts of Sikyong and members of the Tibetan Parliament are seen pasted at Tsuglakhag temple in McLeod Ganj, India, on 13 December 2020. File photo/Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

McLEOD GANJ, India, 24 December 2020

Concerns over a new more infectious variant of coronavirus detected in the United Kingdom is making voting in the elections tricky for the Tibetans living there.

A more infectious variant of Coronavirus, apparently imported from South Africa, has been found in the United Kingdom. Two cases of this new, more transmissible, form of the virus have been linked to contacts of infected people who travelled from South Africa over the past few weeks.

For the preliminary round of the elections on 3 January, 220 people are expected to make their way to the polling station in London. An estimated 1,000 Tibetans are living in the UK, but the official figure according to the last count a year ago was actually 480 people.

The British government has announced stricter restrictions, with exceptions for travelling to work, education, and medical needs. All non-essential shops are closed. People are being advised to stay at home and work from home.

A polling booth will be arranged at the Office of Tibet, London, for Tibetans to cast their votes. But not all are from London. Some will have to travel from other places such as Bristol for balloting, but this may not be possible under the new travelling restrictions.

Medical experts are calling for new lockdowns in European countries like France, Germany, Spain, and Belgium after Christmas to stop the continued spread of the Coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 disease, especially given the new, more contagious variant in the UK.

This could cause severe voting difficulties for Tibetans living in these countries. France has one of the largest populations of Tibetans, with an estimated 8,000.

Attempts to get comments from the Chief Election Commission regarding the situation and any alternatives were denied, saying that the Election Commissioners were in a marathon meeting.

Responding to queries from Tibet Sun, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile Pema Jungney said that if there is a situation of lockdown, and there’s no possibility to go out of their homes, they will have to miss the voting.

“There are no other alternatives given in the election rules. Postponement is also not an option, but to reschedule to a earlier time is allowed according to the rules,” explained Jungey.

He said that for rules to change, the decision has to be taken in the House by the members. “Even the standing committee (of ten members) cannot make any changes.”

In the last elections, Tibetans in Nepal and Bhutan faced voting problems when the Chinese government pressured the host countries to restrict Tibetans in their election process. The then Chief Election Commissioner Sonam Choephel Shosur proposed postal and online voting, but the Parliament rejected his proposal.

“The Parliament rejected the previous Chief Election Commissioner Shosur’s proposal on the ground that if the host countries wanted, even the postal and online voting could be stopped,” Jungney said.

Asked about the possibility of arranging postal and online balloting in the future elections, Jungney said, “With the new experience from the pandemic, we definitely need to look into postal and online, or any other options that may become available.”

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