Thoughts on Sikyong-Elect Dr Lobsang Sangay’s cabinet formation for second term

Doring Tenzin Phuntsok

Doring Tenzin Phuntsok

By Doring Tenzin Phuntsok

MCLEOD GANJ, India, 16 April 2016

Now the people in exile have spoken, quite clearly and loudly, that they want the incumbent Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay to remain in office for another term of five years to continue the legacy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and fight for Tibetan freedom from the hills of Dharamshala. The main election was held without any reports of violence, though filled with an unprecedented air of provincialism and misconduct. The number have clearly spoken in favour of the charismatic Darjeeling born Harvard-scholar, Dr Lobsang Sangay, despite talk of his vague responses in the Tibetan Parliament on questions relating to exile matters in his first term.

The election caused half a year of unprecedented off-stage discussions on Sikyong in wechats and facebook messages. For the first time, heaven intervened in the worldly election matters (after the election had been held) having disappointed the Tibetan Supreme Leader, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, during the full six-month electoral charge. Provincial and sectarian cracks filled the election everywhere. The two candidates, who hailed from Kham and Amdo provinces, were both born in India, and such cracks could have been prevented by them. There was also an ideological tone where it was widely expected that more of the right-wing Tibetans (or Rangzen followers) would vote for Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay than for Speaker Penpa Tsering.

The latter suffered many allegations, one of which was an attempt to disintegrate the TYC. However, this ideological divide isn’t considered a major threat to the unity of Tibet, and therefore doesn’t have much significance as both the ideologies are in favour of unity of Tibet against Chinese rule. The most threatening was the provincialism and sectarianism (in the case of the Sikyong Election) and parochial regionalism (in the case of the Chitue Election) that is likely to pose more threat to unity than to ideological stands. The exile government’s first-ever directly-elected Prime Minister (then known as Kalon Tripa) expressed disappointment and even boycotted voting. The two leading candidates later announced in their first-ever joint press conference in the post-Sikyong election, apologizing to His Holiness and urging Tibetans in exile to remain united and heal the cracks of provincialism and sectarianism that had clouded the past six months of the world’s most popular exile community elections.

I am here to contribute to the discussion of the newly Sikyong-Elect’s cabinet formation. Though it is completely his privilege to nominate, there is no way Sikyong could escape back door talks on the cabinet formation. Therefore, let me write from the front door as to ‘Who will be new Kalons or Ministers’ in Dr. Sangay’s second term. Unconfirmed sources had it that Gyari Dolma, perhaps the most high-profile Kalon, may not continue as Kalon for second term. (It is said that she could become a potential Sikyong candidate in 2021, however if she continues to be minister for consecutive second term, she wouldn’t be able to contest the election) She may be accommodated somewhere either as Chief of Bureau in India or elsewhere. The Finance Minister has already served two terms and therefore his entry into the next cabinet is ruled out. Security Minister Dongchung Ngodup has already resigned before this term was over on moral grounds, and by the way has served for two terms. Dikki Choyyang had already resigned on dissatisfaction under Dr Lobsang Sangay, and therefore her return to cabinet is out of the question. The Education, Health, and Department of Religion and Culture ministers are the three ministers serving for the first time, and may have prospects of being in the second term of Dr Sangay.

Many things are being heard from various sources, and this time it wouldn’t be easy for the Sikyong-re-elect to nominate Ministers as in his previous term. However, the composition must be such that there should be balance in provincial projection in choosing the Ministers. The Cabinet must be (though not necessary by Tibetan Charter or De Jure in exile, but) by De Facto, inclusive of all three provinces of U-Tsang, Dhotoe, and Dhomay. Dr Sangay’s first-term cabinets are well-balanced provincially, and it is much appreciated for its regional representations. Also, his first-term cabinet has mostly experienced Ministers in the field, since he was Sikyong for the first time and nominating experienced Kalons was necessary. Now, this mindset may change. He is now loaded with more and better administrative and political experience than five years ago.

Let us go ministry- or department-wise to see who could be Ministers in Dr Sangay’s second term. The first Minister by tradition to be chosen is Religious and Cultural Minister. Normally it is he, not she, who is boss of the concerned portfolio. We wouldn’t mind any lady minister in charge of the portfolio. But the minister concerned is considered to be Deputy or acting Sikyong in the absence of Sikyong by protocol, and therefore must be a heavyweight. To me, Penpa Tsering is fit to wear the shoe of this ministry, given his firm and clear stand on Middle Path and Dogyal groups. He can also make a good acting Sikyong, being the most-chosen candidate against the winner. Former Minister Tashi Wangdi is also fit to be a Religious and Cultural Minister. He is the most experienced minister given his early ministerial positions in exile where he headed nearly every portfolio in CTA. (He is the Pranab Mukherji of Tibet according to me). Mr Lobsang Jinpa, who is serving in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s office, can also make a wonderful Religious and Cultural Minister. However, nominating Mr Pema Chinnjor back as the minister of the concerned department may not be a bad idea, and may even be approved by the Parliament. Most probably a monk leader is expected to head this department. I would say Geshe Lhador (director of LTWA) is fit to be a Minister for this portfolio, given his intellectuality and oratory strength.

The second ministry to discuss is the Home Ministry. As far as this department is concerned, Gyari Dolma is the most apt minister. There is nobody who can replace her as far as her ability and experience in exile is concerned for the same post. However, if she doesn’t come back for second term, we need to think of someone beforehand. Home Kalon must be someone who is born in India and understand both the situations of exile Tibetan settlements and Indian government, and people. In case Gyari Dolma doesn’t return, the present home secretary, Khorlatsang Sonam Topgyal, could be the wisest choice as Home Minister. Penpa Tsering again is most suitable for this job, though many people wouldn’t like him to be so. His background educational and political experiences are enough to make him Home Minister. It is also probable that Former Minister Tempa Tsering may find nomination for the portfolio, given his rich experience having been the head of the department earlier in the late 1990s and early 2000. The young energetic Tibetan Settlement Officer, Ladakh, and upcoming new Tibetan MP from U-Tsang constituency, Mr Dhondhup Tashi, sounds wonderful idea to be young Home Minister.

The third is Finance Ministry. The present Kalon, Tsering Dhondup, has done a commendable job, but he couldn’t be nominated again for the same post or any other ministry. Many say Tashi Wangdue, the ex-boss of Tibetan Cooperative Society and former CTA bureaucrat may get nomination for the portfolio. His 20 years of experience in various capacities make him a good choice despite several unconfirmed allegations surrounding him. Penpa Tsering too is suited to be Finance Minister. However, someone who had profound CTA budgetary background would be helpful.

The fourth is Education Department. This is an important department considering the number of Tibetan schools scattered throughout India. It is the root of all other ministries, as education is given foremost importance by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This department suffered a little, as the Secretary had to be called in from abroad. I was told during my Bylakuppe TCV school visit in 2012 that he is an ideal man for the education department and was even later made a Minister. Mr Ngodup Tsering may get nominated again for the same portfolio and may even get the nod from the Parliament.

The fifth is the Security Ministry. It is a very important ministry as far as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s security details and measures are concerned. The Minister concerned must be very firm, detailed, trustworthy, and extremely bold and secretive where it is necessary. The just-resigned Dongchung Ngodup was a perfect and most apt person to hold the portfolio. His profound experience in the particular department is well-appreciated and trusted by most of the CTA officials and even people. It will be difficult to find a man of his stature to be Security Minister. This ministry is bound to have a new Minister. The grapevine has it that the additional secretary of Security Department Mr Kunga Tashi may get the nomination for the portfolio, though it wasn’t confirmed. Whoever is nominated, I would expect him to be trustworthy and painstakingly thorough on security details.

The sixth is the Department of Information and International Relations. This is an important department which mostly works to maintain relations with outside supporters and countries, and retrieve or provide information on Tibet affairs. The ministry was handled by Dicki Chhoyang, who later resigned in the wake of the 2016 Tibetan election. Her resignation had sent the wrong signal to the Tibetan people, as she failed to provide any clear-cut reason for the resignation. Her later endorsement of Penpa Tsering for Sikyong made it clear that her resignation is to do with dissatisfaction under Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay. We hear lots of things regarding this portfolio. It is said that a Bylakuppe-origin Tibetan lady by the name of Dikki, currently studying abroad, is slated to be nominated for this portfolio. Also the grapevine has it that Aukatsang Youdon, the sitting MP from Dhotoe, may be nominated for the post.

The seventh and last is the Health Department. This department has undertaken a major health project. The minister Mr Tsering Wangchuk, who is said to be a close associate of Dr Sangay and during whose leadership the ‘Tibetan Medicare System’ was initiated, suffered a public rebuke from His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the recent Men-Tsee-Khang anniversary. Though His Holiness didn’t specify as Kalon or Secretary of concerned department, the fact that he expressed concerns on health conditions in exile understandably points to the health department. Even if Dr Sangay nominates him again, the Parliament in whose hands lay the final voting may reject him owing to a number of issues and considering the recent speeches of His Holiness during the Men-tsee-khang anniversary.

Of late, nominating Kalons from the CTA bureaucratic circles has become a tradition. It reminds me of the early 1980s and 1990s when most of the Kalons were nominated and elected by Parliaments from amongst the bureaucrats. This practice has done more justice and commendable job given the experience that the concerned bureaucrat has in the field and ministry he/she is heading. In 2011 Dr Sangay, who was then a young amateur political leader, nominated very experienced Kalons in the form of Gyari Dolma (a longtime MP, and even deputy Speaker), Dongchung Ngodup (a very experienced CTA bureaucrat), and Tsering Dhondup (a veteran Tibetan bureaucrat). However, this time we are likely to see more new faces in Dr Sangay’s second term cabinet than in his previous. Surprises may also be expected, as sometimes Kalons hail from unknown camps. I wouldn’t expect much from abroad to form the cabinet as most of the issues are being handled from India rather than from abroad.

About the author

Doring Tenzin Phuntsok, alias Pam D Tenzin, has an M Phil in Political Science and was General Secretary of NDPT Central.

Copyright © 2016 Doring Tenzin Phuntsok Published in Tibet Sun Posted in Opinions » Tags: , , ,