TORONTO, Canada, 22 September 2018
Tibetan exile society and our level of political consciousness have changed a lot over the last 60 years. Even more rapidly since His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s complete retirement from active politics. One clearly observed example is the unrestrained manner in which our members of Parliament express their views, and the less hesitation people show in pulling up our leaders — even the Sikyong.
There are more people migrating to the West, more Tibetans in India with much improved economic situation, very easy access to electronic social media, and most important, less relevance of CTA to the day-to-day life of more people. These factors have led, unfortunately, to irresponsible use of political freedom in the name of democracy. Not caring for the safety of political correctness, I accept the very sad fact that regional sentiments are out-weighing our need for national unity. We don’t have to go far to show that this is happening in real time. We see this during the Parliament sessions. It is very clear that our MPs are irreconcilably divided along Cholkha lines. Not so the general public.
Times have changed. It is unrealistic to hope for our democracy to be free from its downsides — fierce competition among the candidates, no holds barred in putting down one’s political opponents, opportunists looking for self-serving political alignment and misusing the sense of regional fraternity. It is very difficult to avoid these pitfalls of democracy. In practice, democracy is being implemented subject to human follies.
It is unrealistic to expect our people to adhere to a completely ethically-correct democracy. As more time passes, more fierce election campaigns will grow. This is the trend worldwide. Feeling of affinity to a group, a region, a community, caste, clan, and so on can’t be wished away. Our society is structurally divided into mentally clear-cut regions. We have to accept the fact that there can be people out there, as in all societies, who are unscrupulous enough to exploit weak points in our society to further their own interests. What we can do is to frame laws that will help reduce harm to our unity and national interests. We need to find out the loopholes in our system and be courageous enough to bring about changes.
As the ongoing 6th session of our 16th Parliament is to discuss changes to electoral system, I have felt like sharing my thoughts regarding the areas where I see the need for brave changes to be made.
Preliminary Elections: An unnecessary exercise
The argument that the preliminary phase of elections is a necessity, considering the party-less democratic system that we have, is not backed up by what actually happens, especially in this age of the rampant misuse of electronic social media, during the run up to the preliminary elections and the long-time gap between the finalization of the list of candidates and the final elections. It is a field day for the mischievous elements in our society to reduce our democracy to a mockery. What we have learned from the last many elections is that people ultimately vote to elect candidates according to the order in which they were placed in the candidates’ list finalised from the preliminary round of elections. There seems to be no need for going through the motion of voting for the same candidates a second time over.
There are two serious drawbacks:
- Waste of the precious Administration fund.
- Resulting in election fatigue and making long enough time available to antisocial elements to creating tumult in our society on the social media till they get tired.
Finalizing the list of candidates
Besides the qualifications already laid down in the election rules for candidates, both for Sikyong’s position and for Parliament, I suggest adding these:
- Any serious candidate must submit a support letter from, at least, twenty people with their present occupation clearly mentioned.
- A reasonably valuable deposit of say, rupees 25,000 (or more) for a parliamentary seat, and rupees 50,000 (or more) for the Sikyong position may be made mandatory.
- Make it a condition that unless a candidate doesn’t secure at least 15% of the total votes polled the deposit will be forfeited.
- Make it a ground of disqualification if a candidate or their supporters indulge in any activity that threatens Cholkha and Choeluk harmony.
- Set a date from which candidates can start public campaigning. A campaign period of, say, a month may be fixed.
- It must be made obligatory to all who make it to the final list of candidates to submit a copy of their election platform to the Election Commission.
Stop the Practice of Electing Choeluk MPs
Historically, the monk community has been a very important — almost indispensable — part of our nation, and that too educationally, culturally and politically. Their representation in the Parliament is justified — but, not by involving them in the rough and tumble of the politics of elections. If there is any situation where getting into the Parliament by nomination is justifiably most suitable, it is the choosing of the Choeluk MPs. Head of each Choeluk should be empowered to nominate its representative in the Parliament. One each from five Sects. Of course, Heads of the various Kargyu sub sects have to meet to discuss ways to go about nominating the Kargyu representative.
Any monk desiring of plunging into active politics by contesting elections should have the chance to do so by offering one’s candidature from one’s own Cholkha. The monks should also have the right to vote to elect MPs for their respective Cholkhas.
It is common knowledge that the Choeluk MPs rarely raise any point concerning the monk community’s interest in the Parliament. What we have observed is that they are in the forefront raising controversial issues and vitiating the ambience of the parliamentary discussions by spewing out angry outbursts.
What more the Election Commission can do
A well-thought-out Election Process Schedule helps, to a great degree, in conducting orderly and hiccup-free polling. Fixing a reasonable length of time for submitting an application package for contesting elections by the prospective candidates, for scrutiny of the documents, for finalization of the final list of candidates, for the length of time allotted for campaigning, the dates of polling, and finally for declaration of the election results. In this age of very fast means of communication, the compilation of the results should not take too long a time. Not more than 15 days, perhaps. The important thing is to ensure transparency in the counting of votes and accuracy in the tabulation of the results.
Let us hope that national interests will prevail when discussing the changes in the electoral system.
About the author
Norbu Tsering now lives in Toronto, Canada. Worked as Lecturer at Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh; as teacher at the TCV schools of Ladakh, Upper TCV, and Gopalpur; and, as Principal of TVC school, Ladakh.