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The culling and the show down at Gangkyi Corral

Thursday, Nov 18, 2010

An observation of the recently concluded preliminary election by a Tenzing Tethong supporter. I tried to be as objective as possible but if anybody finds it overly one-sided, you know which department you can forward your complaints.

The preliminary polls are out and Lobsang Sangay la has the early lead. A huge lead would be the correct phrase actually as he had almost twice the votes as the next hopeful candidate, Tenzing Namgyal Tethong la. And for all intents and purposes, as previously suspected, these two front-runners are now the main candidates as determined by popular choice. I am not saying the other worthy candidates are not allowed to run for the office but it remains a pretty much done deal at this point. In most other countries, especially in the west, you will be hearing about graceful withdrawal of candidacy from the bottom dwellers about this time. Whether they do that or stick it out like Ross Perot, is pretty much up to them, depending upon backroom deals and political maneuvers. Since we don’t have a party system, it becomes even more complicated, but I wouldn’t worry about that just yet.

Now, coming back to the two main contestants, in spite of his most recent political gaffe with his “Obama of China” comment (which naturally drew strong reactions from Rangzen advocates, including me) and his near-zero governmental experience and despite lack of support from political pundits and advocacy groups, Lobsang Sangay la has somehow managed to not only surpass the general expectation but exceed it in surprising fashion. What could be the reasons that have brought about such a commanding lead for a political novice? Let me share some of my thoughts on this matter.

One of the reason for his strong lead is the over-selling of his Harvard law degree, subtly (barely) by him and quite blatantly by his supporters, which although impressive in its own rights and has managed to seduce not only young people but even some from the older generations, it still doesn’t explain why he is fit to lead a nation. Most of his supporters probably do not even know what he actually does at Harvard University and what research papers he has actually produced, much less read them and compared them to other people in the same field. But that is not his fault. He had the card and he played it beautifully.

Another reason is his youth, his good looks, modern education and accessible personality which naturally makes him palatable to the youth and the old alike whereas Tenzing Tethong la, who not only has the debonair gentleman appeal to him but also could very well be considered young in terms of world leaders and who could equally position his Stanford fellowship on parallel basis has somehow not managed to connect on those terms. His reserved personality and old-fashioned style might be his downfall on this front although lately he has shown marked improvement in this area. So, we shall see if that would garner him some more votes next time around. Meanwhile, Lobsang Sangay la does not hide the fact that he wants to stand for the office (which I like very much and find refreshing) and he tries to relate to the audience and has been known to tune his message accordingly depending on the crowd, which should really be second nature to a politician. Sometimes, he does get carried away and betray his inexperience and that could in and of itself carry certain connotations that he might be well advised to restrain from in a Tibetan setting in the future. This cannot be said of the other serious candidates who appear reluctant, almost as if they were pressured to stand for office with a shotgun. Maybe not Tenzing Tethong la. Tenzing Tethong la was also one of the early candidates, and although he wouldn’t say it outright, you can tell that he is confidant in his candidacy and does want the job. It should be worth noting that the two front-runners were also two of the earliest campaigners. Maybe a blueprint for future hopefuls?

There is also something to be said about their respective campaign styles. Lobsang Sangay la hit it early and hit it hard and he was busy campaigning in almost every Tibetan community in the west and most notably India, especially in various settlements that has the highest concentration of Tibetans. To my knowledge, Tenzing Tethong la hadn’t actively campaigned in the settlements aside from a few group appearances, which I found frustrating being one of his supporters. I don’t expect a door-to-door meet-and-greet sort of campaign but still wanted him to somewhat match Lobsang Sangay la’s enthusiasm. I don’t know if he wanted to wait and see and redouble his efforts after the initial results but it could very well have cost him some precious votes.

One dark side of the whole proceeding is the clear disapproval of one of the old stations of power, namely Kudraks, from the general public. You can pretty much read open statements of disdain for the aristocracy and a call for a new order of governance from Lobsang Sangay’s supporters. I can pretty much empathize with this sentiment and wouldn’t mind a change of things myself. But unfortunately that is not the only criteria I want in someone to run my future and the future of my country. I would prefer to judge a person by his own merits and not by his ancestors, whether real or fictional, and proverbially not make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Curiously, these very same people somehow excuse the other half of the power metrics in Tibet, which is the monastic order that should be held equally responsible for the fate of Tibet if we are assigning blame. Even more bizarre is the rumor that most of the members of the clergy are in favor of Lobsang Sangay. I don’t know if the age-old rivalry between these two bastions of power are coming into effect and chess pieces are moving behind the scene way over my head but something definitely is going on there.

Lastly, and in my opinion very important, even though most people either simply ignore it or it totally escapes them, is the Hope factor. I have noticed very early on and it became stronger and stronger as the race went on, Lobsang Sangay la appeared more hopeful about the future than his counterparts, whether he means it or not. There is also his affinity for riding on Obama’s good political fortune and the simple message of change, which Obama used to near perfection. There is no escaping the fact that Tenzing Tethong la definitely represents the old guard, no matter how different his actual political disposition and inclination might be, which may not be too different from Lobsang Sangay. Fifty-one years in exile and the dismal political limbo we are struck in, the youth and the old alike are equally frustrated and understandably want someone different this time around, someone who doesn’t represent the old order whom they somewhat blame for the present condition. The actual brilliance about the word change is that you just have to represent it without having to prove anything (especially Lobsang Sangay la who literally has no record of any voting in the parliament nor does he have any tenure in any part of the exile government and thereby leaving no room for others to catch him flip-flopping on any position) and somehow make ‘experience’ seem outdated and old-fashioned. On the other hand, Tenzing Tethong la seemed hard-bent on relating the facts about the actual Tibetan political scene and the de facto power vested in the Kalon Tripa’s hand to his own detriment. Maybe, that is an area that my candidate for Kalon Tripa needs to work on more than anything if he is to make any gain in the actual election. That is a great strategy coming from Lobsang Sangay’s camp where they have actually managed to make experience appear undesirable considering that was one of his glaring shortcomings. My hats off to Lobsang Sangay la and his team even though it seems to me that he is actually believing it these days and that had led to a few political gaffes that he can ill afford to repeat on a continual basis.

All in all, even though my discontent with the exile democracy is well evident in my previous article, I am somewhat interested in this particular one. To be blunt, my interest or fear simply lies in the tenuous nature of our Government and the rapidly advancing age of Kundun. There is simply no way to tell what might befall us in the next 5-10 years. I don’t know about you folks but I for one wouldn’t want to be struck with someone who is a political novice, no matter how impressive his academic credentials. At the end of the day, wading through all the glam and frills of political theatre, you really have one very basic question to ask yourself: Can you trust the future of your children and your country with your chosen candidate if worst comes to worst? I want someone who has a proven record, who is well versed in both Tibetan and western political thoughts, a visionary, a person of integrity and smarts. In short, I want Tibet’s future to be in safe and able hands of Tenzin Tethong la. His impressive accomplishments during his tenure are there for all to see. It is one thing to run a campaign and quite another to run a government. All the same, I do want to congratulate Lobsang Sangay la for winning the preliminary with sound strategy and excellent maneuvers. See you guys in the next round.

P.S: I want people to pay very close attention to what was actually said by the two candidates about the feasibility of the Middle Way approach on November 12th, 2010 on RFA.

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  • avatar Palden rGyal says:

    Dear Tenpa Gapshi la,
    Its an excellent article, I have asked a friend of mine to translate it into Tibetan on Khabdha.
    One thing which I might add is the role of the NDPT, well, we say have no political parties, but it is not quite true with the existence of such a politically naive organization, bearing gigantic banner as the National Democratic Party of Tibet???? stabs me deep and I must say that the political marriage of Lobsang Saygay and Chemi Youngdon(president of NDPT) left Tethong la out despite the mere name as their choice of the candidates. I believe I was among the first to protest against NDPT when it first started campaigning only for L Sangay on social networks like facebook, even though they included Tethong la later, it is just to prevent criticism while it is conspicuous how the organization presents the two.
    I share your resentment, passionately, propagandistic efforts of Losang Sangay’s supporters and the exploitation of Harvard PhD. stature while I appreciate his audacity as to come-forth quite elegantly.
    His silence over travel to Beijing should be put into public scrutiny before it is too late.

  • avatar Mila Rangzen says:

    lobsang married palden gyatso, bhakdro n many others while tetong remained traditional humble aloof that is now costing him too much.
    unless tetong comes up with a full blown diffrent approach that appeals to the voters, it’s no better than a good time pass, seriously.

  • avatar Tenpa Gapshi says:

    Thanks Palden la for translating it into Tibetan for Khadha as I believe it will reach much further into the Tibetan community, especially in the settlement. I am also surprised to know the relationship between the president of the NDPT and Lobsang Sangey la. While the party has every right to support their chosen candidate, it must also come clean on its record about the relationship between the prime players and its total membership. A party only in name without any significant membership will mean it is a straight-up farce, especially if it pretends to be neutral. I haven’t been able to check up much since I am traveling but I will try to keep in touch. Hopefully, we can turn this Titanic around before it hits the iceburg.

    Tethong la approach must be to open up a little bit, sound more optimistic about the future, visit the Shichaks more and engage in dialogue and address their concerns. Let them know a little bit about himself, what he has been able to achieve during his tenure and I know he has the tact to showcase his amazing achievements without appearing to boast about it. Make that the distinguishing factor as that is LS’s main problem and the reason why his camp tries to avoid that at all cost and focuses on change, which is really meaningless. Zero Experience. I still believe a lot of these supporters for the other candidates will reassess and most probably go with Tethong, which Mila correctly calculated to 19000, making it a much closer show-down than truly reflected.

    Any other ideas from you two?

  • avatar Tenpa Gapshi says:

    Oh, I might have misread the political marriage as I first thought it meant real marriage between the two. Am I right?

  • avatar Kyap says:

    Tenpa la,
    Yes Of course, I did not mean the literal meaning.

  • avatar Tenpa Gapshi says:

    Thanks for making that clear. I don’t want to jump to conclusions without proper confirmation.

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