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The Challenge of Rangzen

Thursday, Dec 27, 2007
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(Editorial, Alternative Tibetaine n°2, 2007)

In “Rangzen Charter” (1999), Jamyang Norbu spoke about the “first step” of a pro-independence movement: “Before any effective discussion on strategy or organisation for the Freedom Struggle can take place it is absolutely necessary that those individuals and organisations that cherish liberty and Rangzen openly and unequivocally declare their dedication to freedom and Tibetan independence”. Today, and not without difficulty, this “first step” is now accomplished.

Several events have been held in 2006 and 2007: Declaration of Independence of the Nations of High Asia (Washington, September 2006), International Conference of the Dhokham Chushi Gangdruk (New York, December 2006), International Forum for a Free Tibet (Turin, May 2007), International Union of Socialist Youth Asia-Pacific Committee Meeting (Ulaan Baatar, June 2007) and the Conference for an Independent Tibet (New Delhi, June 2007). All these events are many “first steps” in the dynamic, emerging movement in favour of Rangzen.

But after the “first step”, the most important is the one that follows, and perhaps the one to be decisive: the unification and the structuring of Rangzen movement. There are several great Rangzen figures – like Jamyang Norbu, Lhasang Tsering, Tenzin Tsundue, etc. – and several Tibetan NGOs supporting Rangzen – like Tibetan Youth Congress, Dhokham Chushi Gangdruk, Students for a Free Tibet etc. – but there is no unified and structured movement: which is probably the most important and the only absolute precondition to any alternative strategy or campaign.

Rangzen activists can’t be satisfied any more with just criticising the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE), without making alternative propositions and applying them. Yes, the policy and the action of the TGiE are not perfect and seem to be condemned to fail, but they are for the moment the “only solution”, in default of “another concrete solution”. TGiE’s initiatives are like a life raft, drifting but floating. And there is no use in sinking it, as it is also the legitimate continuation in exile of the Tibetan sovereignty and the symbol of the Tibetan struggle.

In fact, the TGiE is first and foremost the hostage of a situation presently unfavourable to it – precarious condition of refugee, fragile tolerance of the Indian host, pressure of foreign governments, threats of China against Tibetans inside Tibet, etc. Secondly, considering the pronounced legitimism of the present Tibetan leadership, changes will not come if the Dalai Lama doesn’t take the initiative. And what lacks to each other to step forward is the horizon of a concrete alternative. This should be the job of Rangzen activists. But the construction of this alternative programme – which doesn’t exist at the moment – will take a necessary time of maturation, during which Rangzen activists will have to stand and to act when the TGiE will not be able to do it. They could also take advantage of this situation.

But above all, to bring political alternance and achieve a real political change in exile, Rangzen activists will have to ensure their proper political – and not only moral or historic – legitimacy, which can be started with their parliamentary representation. And so for several reasons:

Political party representation

In spite of successive reforms since its creation in 1960, the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) persists on a strictly regional and religious system of representation. Identification is not based on political ideals, objectives or programmes, but only on traditional provinces or religious sects. Politically, the Tibetan deputy is either an individual, or the representative of his region or his religious sect, but he is never the member of a group sharing and supporting common objectives. This doesn’t mean that divergence of views or conflict of interest don’t exist – especially about the question of independence or autonomy – but they don’t find any opportune way of expression, meaning here political way.

This is why when some Tibetan MPs resolved in September 2004 to contest a previous resolution adopted with the majority support – about the possibility to review the Middle Way policy – they did it under the cover of their regional groups. Two regional associations (Domed and Utsang) resolved to resign from the assembly if the resolution was not withdrawn. This in political terms has no signification and incorrectly presumes the individual stand of the other deputies of these regions.

The Tibetan Parliament functions with no political party system. Although the Tibetan Charter in Exile doesn’t proscribe this kind of representation, it simply doesn’t deal with political party – what Tibetans often basically answer as a natural fact, without questioning this constitutional blank. At best, they refer to the Guidelines for Future Tibet by the Dalai Lama, who advocates multiparty system. But this perspective is immediately restricted to a future “free” Tibet – a distant future as unfathomable as uncertain. And so it postpones the responsibilities of today to tomorrow. Moreover, this vision could function only in an independent and sovereign Tibet – free to decide its proper way of governance – but it would be contradicted by the Chinese constitutional framework to which it doesn’t refer by the way. So, quite paradoxically, this vision found in Middle Way policy is tacitly or unintentionally an advocacy for Rangzen. But more significant is the top down democratic initiatives and progression, only due to the goodwill of the Dalai Lama who still confronts the many resistance: a new initiative which the Tibetans seem to find hard to take themselves, or at least just to anticipate and implement.

So, in exile, the successive reforms of the constitution brought the right to vote, the separation of powers, the election of Parliament Members and Prime Minister through direct suffrage. But having democratic institutions, as perfect as they are, is not sufficient to establish a democracy if there remains a lack of any party expression relative to political ideals or objectives, to begin with the underlying – but non formalised – opposition between Rangzen and Autonomy. Democracy would be an empty word if it could not allow political discussions and if it would be impossible to know who represents who or who represents what. And there is no question here of region or religious sect, but only of political ideals, programmes or objectives carried by parties sharing a common stand.

More fundamentally the question is about the mode of parliamentary representation and about the process of decision. The role and the vocation of a political party are to participate in governance and to the decision-making process – including the role of opposition. Thus to invest all the areas of decision, especially in the parliament where the policy of the exile government is voted. But till now the Tibetan Parliament in Exile and the Tibetan Charter don’t include this kind of political representation. This is not a question of presumed democratic model, but a question of political legibility and efficiency.

In the second issue of Alternative Tibetaine, we interview three influential Tibetan deputies of the present Tibetan Parliament in Exile: Karma Yeshi, Karma Choephel (co-chairman) and Penpa Tsering (co-chairman). According to Karma Choephel, even the National Democratic Party of Tibet (NDPT), the unique “party” in exile, is not a real political party: “NDPT is supposed to be a preparation for the future” in accordance to the vision of the Dalai Lama who “envisages a dual or multiparty parliamentary system of democracy for future Tibet”.

Even Karma Yeshi, who “(has his) share of contribution in the formation of NDPT and strongly (supports) its manifesto and political stand”, acknowledges that he is not himself, literally speaking, deputy of NDPT. He adds that “the main issue is formation of one or two more political parties and getting them endorsed by the parliament as well as Tibetan election commission”. However, according to Penpa Tsering, “it may be possible for political parties to function within the present structure”, before adding: “but I did not see any move from any quarters to effect such change”.

Penpa Tsering also specifies that “political parties need definite political ideology and programs and leadership. Either we are lacking in one or all, or we are satisfied with the way it is and focus on the (presumed) common goals”. And Penpa Tsering wonders “why people who feel very strongly about political parties do not form one on their own or collectively with other people?”. This is the real question.

For the moment, it appears that Rangzen and political party system creates a kind of unrest and even of taboo among Tibetan parliament and community. Both issues stigmatize a feeling of direct conflict or confrontation with the Dalai Lama and his Middle Way approach: an incorrect prejudice harmful not only to Rangzen but to the whole Tibetan struggle. Fundamentally democracy is based on difference of views, and opposition is a fundamental principle. Democracy is the only solution to leave the present political stalemate in exile, and the Dalai Lama himself did his best to bring democracy to the Tibetan community in exile. As Tenzin Tsundue says in “Mangtso: Our Democratic Vision” (2004): “Although we received our democracy as a blessing (from the Dalai Lama), we must endeavour to make it work. And we have been most unwilling to do just that; take up democratic responsibilities”.

For the moment, the thought process within the Tibetan parliament and community seem unprepared or not ready for political party representation. However one step at least could be realised. As Karma Choephel says in his interview: “At present it can be said that within the Tibetan parliament there is a majority support for the Middle Way policy. But I sense that the longer the present stalemate, of getting no concrete response from the Chinese side remains, more members tend to waver in their position. (…) So I feel that in future also if the stalemate remains, support for Rangzen will grow in the house”. This analysis is confirmed by the fact that, during the last legislative elections in March 2006, new deputies were elected and most of them, as well as former ones, are very close to Rangzen. So if political party representation may be premature for the moment, one stage exists: a parliamentary group. Then it remains with all these deputies close to Rangzen to gather and to form a Rangzen parliamentary group. Because ensuring the political representation of Rangzen is primordial, and representing Rangzen at the Tibetan Parliament – the ultimate decision-making body and the symbol of the Tibetan democracy – is an absolute necessity.

Rangzen parliamentary group

Except for the fact that a parliamentary group would be opportune to ensure the political representation of Rangzen – in default of a system of political party representation – it also presents some strategic advantages:

In his article “Political Transcription of Rangzen” published in the second issue of Alternative Tibetaine, Francois Corona, a French Rangzen activist, speaks about the method of the “parliamentary group” which he names the “method of the legislative smokescreen”. In many countries exist some Tibet parliamentary groups. This is the method of foreign governments to not engage on the Tibetan issue and to let their legislative representation respond to the citizens and electors expectations. By doing so, it is also a way for the governments to preserve the governing political parties from the electoral consequences of their compromise with China and to not hurt China as well. So we need to use the same arms as our political “adversaries” or presumed “partners”. This model presents many teachings and could be applied to the Tibetan movement by reversing the situation. There are several levels of analysis:

For the moment, Rangzen activists put pressure on their government in exile to change their present policy. But clearly, it would be too dangerous for the Tibetan parliament or government to become suddenly pro-independent, and it would be also premature in absence of a clear alternative strategy. However, without lowering the Rangzen cause and its highly moral signification, pragmatism and strategy are useful. Middle Way approach is not so bad for Rangzen cause. It is even the best protection for Rangzen to grow and to unify and structure its movement. As Middle Way approach is in the interest of China, it is also in the immediate and present interest of foreign nations. These will not harm a Tibetan leadership who act presently in their own interest, and the evidence is that they desperately support “dialogue with China” and consequently Middle Way policy – with no political results of course. But that is not the question.

During the time of maturation of the Rangzen movement and of its political representation, Middle Way approach should remain the government policy until political alternance and Rangzen alternative strategy are ready. This time would be also useful for Rangzen activists to gain political and international support.

To be clear again, it doesn’t mean that Rangzen activists should stop requesting their government to change their policy. But TGiE is as obstinate as frightened by the foretold failure of its proper policy and by its duty to maintain the Tibetan unity. So of course Rangzen activists should continue to put pressure on their government, but by keeping in mind the objective difficulties of this and the risks of a brutal change of policy. Even it remains extremely important, as Jamyang Norbu wrote in “Looking Back from Nangpa-la” (2007), to “take the Dalai Lama back”. He is the keystone of the Tibetan struggle, but he is at the same time the problem and the solution – the “Dilemma” that Rangzen activists as often but respectfully speak of. The fact remains that, in absence of an alternative strategy, the present position of the Dalai Lama is the “only solution”. He has no more latitude of manoeuvring. And the job of Rangzen activists is to build the bridge over the precipice to “take him back”.

However, in the present circumstances, “unity” may be a “trap”. Of course Tibetan people are all united in their aspiration to end the Tibetan suffering and to live in freedom. This is a common and indisputable goal. But “freedom” does not have the same political signification. The Tibetan opinion is not uniform and, if a consensus seems to exist on the basis of the Middle Way policy, it is in a delicate way. As Tenzing Sonam writes in “Until the Last Tibetan” (2007): “We (can) no longer pretend that this contradiction between our loyalty to the Dalai Lama and our instinctive belief in Tibet’s independence (does) not exist”. Except this “morass of conflicting goals and loyalties besetting the Tibet movement”, it has also many political consequences, not only by creating confusion, but also by giving opportunities to foreign governments or Chinese leadership to neutralise the Tibetan struggle. Then political unity with different and even opposite political goals is impossible and also counterproductive. As Francois Corona writes: “We rather need a clever political plurality than a sham unity as claimed by some”. The hope of unification of the whole Tibetan movement – including the parliament and the government – on the basis of Rangzen would be delicate for the moment and more certainly premature. The differentiation of two sides acting for their respective objectives is momentarily preferable, as well as the Middle Way approach as present policy of the Tibetan government to prevent any kind of retaliatory measures from foreign governments. In this framework, a Rangzen parliamentary group would be the best way to bring political alternance – and even convergence – and achieve a change of policy with less risks. It is of course necessary to review the policy of TGiE, as well as to restore the complete unity of Tibetan struggle on the basis of truth and justice: Rangzen. But we have to do so step by step.

Rough draft of a political solution

In a new article published in the second issue of Alternative Tibetaine, Jamyang Norbu draws some starting points for discussions on a political solution to Tibet issue. “One of the first steps that might be undertaken is to seek various local administrative bodies, state legislatures, even national parliaments to proclaim Tibet an ‘occupied country’. Such initiatives have been successfully undertaken before but always as one-off initiatives and never as a part of concerted campaign with a specific over-all goal. (…) A logical next step might be to seek governmental recognition of the TGiE. This may appear to be a difficult even impossible task but have we really tried?”

The suggestion of Jamyang Norbu is very consistent because it echoes to a previous resolution adopted by the European Parliament in July 2000. By this resolution, EP called on governments of the Member States “to give serious consideration to the possibility of recognising the Tibetan Government in Exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people if, within three years, the Beijing authorities and the Tibetan Government in Exile have not, through negotiations under the aegis of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, signed an agreement on a new statute for Tibet”. Till now the so-called “renewed dialogue” with Beijing since 2002 and the present Tibetan policy have only helped China to wriggle out of EP ultimatum. But at the time of the deadline, in July 2003, EP should have evaluated their objectives and reformulated openly their recommendations in the framework of a new resolution. In the circumstances, attest the lack of any agreement between Beijing and Dharamsala and consequently call on Members States to recognise the Tibetan Government in Exile. Now the July 2000 EP resolution has not resulted in any kind of new process, therefore its content has neither been confirmed nor withdrawn. Theoretically, EP tacitly recognises the Tibetan Government, but by their constant silence and ulterior resolutions, they behave as if this resolution has never existed. If the three years deadline has now passed for a long time, at the grassroots, EP engagements remain as well as the obligation to implement this resolution that is still and more than ever justified by the lack of any China-Tibet agreement.

But to seek this international recognition, the first and absolute precondition is that the TGiE itself doesn’t refuse any such recognition, and not only accept it but manage to seek and to achieve it. By default of this precondition, another condition could be sufficient: a Rangzen parliamentary group giving the necessary political legitimacy to initiate and undertake a such campaign, supported by an unified and structured international Rangzen movement. In fact, this Rangzen parliamentary group and this international Rangzen movement are useful and absolutely necessary to any further strategies or campaigns.

All this could and should be discussed by Tibetan Rangzen activists during their next meeting, in December, in Dharamsala. As many of them – Sonam Topgyal, Jamyang Norbu, Lhasang Tsering, Karma Yeshi, Tenzin Tsundue, Sonam Wangdu etc. – met last June, they decided to organise a next meeting or conference at the end of this year to discuss further strategies. Technically, the formation of Rangzen parliamentary group could be planned as soon as possible – since there are several Tibetan deputies close to Rangzen. This initiative could then be made official during the next session of the Tibetan parliament, in March 2008. Furthermore, a Rangzen political party could emerge – a revitalised NDPT or a new “real” party – and campaign in view of the next Tibetan legislative elections, in 2010. For the first time, the formation of a Rangzen parliamentary group could also be the best political answer to China in view of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. However, Rangzen activists should not focus too much on Beijing Olympics, as fundamentally Rangzen cause has no link with Chinese affairs. Of course Beijing Olympics are a great opportunity to highlight Tibetan issue and to confront China, but it is not a goal in itself. It should not become a pretext to postpone again what is more important than everything: the unification and the structuring of the Rangzen movement and the advent of its political representation. Long term strategies have more consistence than immediate and just reactive actions.

To finish, it remains to say that Rangzen is not the threat of division and of conflict within the Tibetan community and their supporters. Rangzen is the promise of reconciliation and a door to exit out of present political crisis. Rangzen is also a very inspiring promise: to become sooner or later a reality. Democratisation in exile, diplomatic policy, activist strategies, international support and Rangzen are highly connected and very close to each other. And today, the time is to connect these. Yes, Rangzen is possible, but without getting ahead of schedule: step by step.


This editorial was originally published in English on Phayul and Alternative Tibetaine.

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