TORONTO, Canada, 13 October 2020
The third Sikyong elections are just round the corner. We have quite a number of candidates aspiring to this top job in the CTA setup. As in all other democracies, the race for elected offices is becoming fiercer and more competitive. Social media is already teeming with posts counting the merits of the candidates. Unfortunately, when it comes to slandering the candidate that one does not like, we are not far behind others in our ferocity and venom. The expletives we use are aimed at giving the most brutal feeling of hurt. Anyway, like everything else, democracy also has two sides. This can’t be helped.
Of course, the beauty of democracy is the full freedom with which people can talk about the issues that they consider important, and express their opinion about the suitability or otherwise of a candidate during elections. In this age when social media has made it so easy doing electioneering that can reach every corner of the world almost in no time, we also need to be on our guard so as not be swayed by mischievous misinformation. Let not electioneering divide us and weaken us.
Everybody has the right to support any candidate, and also the right to point out failings of candidates that they do not favour. I am here only to share with you why I think of Penpa Tsering la as the suitable person to take on the responsibility of leading CTA as its Sikyong.
One very important reason I will be voting for Penpa Tsering is out of the sense that, even though the court verdict was in his favour, he didn’t get real justice after all the turmoil his life has gone through and all the travails that he must have suffered because of his removal from Washington Representative’s Office on grounds refused by the Supreme Justice Commission as untenable. The verdict stopped short of reinstating him. Maybe the bench were too afraid of the backlash.
Penpa Tsering la’s career as a successful public figure reached its nadir in the aftermath of his unceremonious dismissal. Not only did his sacking lead to the loss of his job, it more seriously ignited a chain of situations in which the choicest expletives were used to portray him as an antagonist of the Kashag and the CTA. Which is not true. Approaching the judiciary for the redressal of one’s grievances against the wrong use of executive power is how democratic rights are protected. Taking recourse to appealing to the judiciary for intervention was the only option left for him to clear his name.
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, after his thumping victory over his rival, was on a visit to England. When asked about how he felt winning the general elections defeating former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he proudly replied that he had left Stephen Harper in the dust. When Penpa Tsering la didn’t use his legal right to try for an order from the Supreme Justice Commission staying the decision of the Kashag to fire him, when he didn’t choose to challenge the decision of the Kashag on the strong ground of conflict of interest because of a Kashag member replacing him that took the decision to fire him, and when he said that the Kashag had the authority to dismiss him and that he would speak only after he ceased to be a CTA employee, I got the feeling that Penpa Tsering la was, indeed, left in more dust than Trudeau had collected for Harper. I don’t know whether Penpa Tsering la, too, felt the same way.
Frustrations that long delays in the judicial process cause, and the stressful uncertainty over which way the final verdict on the court trials might go, test the inner strength of those who undergo such debilitating experiences. But he showed the fortitude not to let this mishap in his career break him. He patiently waited out that long court trial which brought out his qualities of forbearance and conciliation. Very important leadership upside these. The burden of shame and disgrace of the loss of face from falling from the high point of an able Speaker of the Parliament to getting fired as just an incompetent officer in the Administration can completely break a weaker person. But not Penpa Tsering la. Remaining composed and in control of himself, he did the right thing only a sensible guy would do in such a situation. Not going berserk criticizing left and right, he calmly talked to the press explaining his side of the ten points of transgression that the Kashag slapped him with. He didn’t let bitterness cloud his mind. The ability to stay calm in even hopeless-seeming situations in life is another leadership upside.
At the end of the long drawn-out trials, he was not found guilty of any of the ten points of allegation. But that turned out to be a strange victory. Sort of no light at the end of the dark tunnel. That most sensational, most talked-about, most discussed, and most followed trial in the history of exile Tibetan judiciary brought no gains to Penpa Tsering la. No compensation to him for the disgrace he suffered after wrongly getting labelled as an incompetent Representative. Nor was there his reinstatement in his old position. It was, indeed, a victory that didn’t seem like a victory. The only justice that a common man like me can to do to him is using my vote in his favour. It is for him.
Can he prove himself equal to the responsibilities as the Sikyong? Yes, sure. From the very capable way he carried out his duties as the Speaker of the Parliament for over seven years, from the way he worked hard to promote deeper understanding of how legislative business is done in democracies by visiting different Tibetan areas in India as the Executive Director of Tibetan Parliamentary Research Centre, New Delhi educating the people, especially the local legislative assemblies about the democratic way of functioning, he has shown his competence, his spirit of dedication, his care for public good, his capacity for expanding networking, the articulateness of his speech, and his fluent hold over the Tibetan and English languages.
Penpa Tsering la’s success as Speaker proves to us that the generation born and grown up in exile can be trusted with the baton of struggle passed from the previous generation. The dignified, effective, constitutional and democratic way he presided over the Parliament sessions during his tenure points to the fact that he has the makings of an effective leader of the Administration too. He presided over and followed the Parliamentary sessions devoted to the discussions on the annual reports of the various Departments of the Administration with keen interest. He is very knowledgeable about what the Parliament and the people at large can expect from the work that each Department does. Being the leader of Parliament that oversees the work of the Administration, he has the insider’s view of the functioning of the all the Departments in the Administration.
He has the capacity, experience, vision, and interpersonal skills to do justice to the responsibilities of the Sikyong. He is a politician who prefers keeping a low profile. If keeping a high profile forces others to pay attention, having a low profile wins friends. His non-confrontational way of responding to situations will help keep away bitterness from resolving differences. This his nature will save him and us from allowing adverse situations escalate into destabilizing confrontations. More such occasions are likely to confront us with more people tending to asserting their democratic rights in an aggressive way.
Regarding the criticism that Penpa Tsering la has a weakness for drinking, I do not know much about it. I do not know him personally at all. I have never met with him. I lived almost all my life in Ladakh before immigrating to Canada. What I can say for sure is that it has never been found that drinking has impaired carrying out his responsibilities as MP or as the Speaker. If a public figure has the habit of moderate drinking, it is unreasonable to expect him/her to be a complete teetotaler. Do all others in CTA and the Parliament never drink? Of course not. I have no problem if anybody’s drinking habit does not have adverse effect on his work. Of course, being out and out an alcoholic can’t be accepted.
I will not be surprised if Penpa Tsering la comes out of the elections in the manner of the Phoenix rising from the ashes to be the Sikyong. There is strong public opinion building up favoring Penpa Tsering la’s bid for Sikyong position. Good luck to him.
About the author
Norbu Tsering worked at Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh, Ladakh, as an English Lecturer and then at TCV School, Ladakh, as the School Principal. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
More articles by Norbu Tsering on Tibet Sun.