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Rethinking Katri – A Legal Battle?

Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011

The concept of democracy in exiled Tibetan community is as old as the history of exile itself. The parliamentary model of exile government is based on the principle of the “balance of power” that in one way manifests the maturity of Tibetan democracy. Unfortunately, the process of democratic evolution has been concentrated mainly on the structural reform of the government and has left little impact on the minds and thoughts of the people. This unabridged gap in maturity is largely the result of public education and political awareness. If we truly believe in the principles of democracy – a “government by the people, for the people and of the people”, then the evolutionary delay of democratic thought in public life exhibits the failure of our education policy. This is self-evident from the sudden explosion in public attitude and behavior regarding the ongoing campaigns for Kalon Tripa. The result of the preliminary election is indicative of our immature, embryonic democracy. As a matter of fact, media and educated Tibetans bear ethical responsibility that goes beyond the dogma of ideological battles. The failure to unite from the ideological hypes has long term consequences on the success of our political movement and national survival at large.

Considering the candidates’ commitment and dedication to service, each candidate bears equal responsibility for transparency and honesty in dealing with the public. At this critical juncture of our history, we cannot possibly sweep a minute of dirt under the carpet nor can we afford any sort of laboratory experimentation with the Katri election. While we undisputedly condemn smear campaigning for any candidates, we believe that constructive criticism for public scrutiny is indispensable as an instrumental apparatus for a healthy democratic election. What is at the stake or for what reason this paper is produced after several discussions on skype is a sincere expression with tremendous concern unto the trend of Katri elections in the past few months. Because, demagoguery and rhetoric are at the service of unrealistic commitments that should not be allowed to hijack the principles we hold dear. The carbon copy modeling of our democracy with Western politics without considering the differences in ground realities does more harm than good for our national struggle.

The candidate in question is Dr. Lobsang Sangyay la to whom we have as many Tibetan youths, developed deep sense of respect and acquired immense stimulation from as a role model in his academic pursuits. Nevertheless, it stops us to second him following a meticulous surveillance on our status quo. In the West, political campaigns are battle grounds for party survival and more than often fight on ideological strings. However, even highly mature democracies in the West counteract the dividing elements to maintain stability and health of a democratic system. Therefore, a candidate’s rhetoric and promises do little to the outcome at ballot box in winning the overall battle. More often than not, candidates are tested by vision, experience, integrity and dedication. We believe that the ultimate measure of a man is his actions, not words.

Democracy is often blamed for the tendency in public failure throughout the philosophical discourse of politics. This tendency of failure within the public intellect is an imminent danger, and therefore an urgent call for a careful reading of the candidates is a duty dictated by conscience for every Tibetans in exile. In our community, there are number of people who are simply attracted by an abundance of promises and melodies in speech. For example, Dr. Lobsang Sangay employs the campaign mantra of “change” , without mentioning what the changes are actually going to be. The word change can be deceptive if people don’t have a fair understanding of functional relations between the executive and legislative branches in democracy. He is no more different from other candidates in terms of exile government’s political approach to China.

Moreover, his idea of a legal battle against China is merely rhetoric, and is simply playing his international law degree card, often associated with the eminence of Harvard. Let us face the fact that given China as a permanent member in the Security Council and the weaknesses of international legal regime in dealing with issues where interests of a powerful states clash, international law is crippled. Dr. Lobsang la’s idea of a legal battle against China lacks maturity in understanding of international political climate or simply waving a flag to obscure yet entice the mass. From a legal perspective, international law is unable to cross the principle of sovereign immunity’, which precludes parties from suing a foreign government without its consent.  The legal weaknesses of the United Nations can easily be discerned from its relatively short history. To make the record straight, the international legal system works only against weak and poor countries, and seldom works against the belligerent states. Unfortunately, this is a realistic assessment of international law and Dr. Lobsang la is completely aware of it.

It is repugnant to hear people ranting about our democratic institution as a gift of His Holiness while they don’t recognize that it comes with a responsibility as rights and duties are two sides of the same coin. The Katri’s position should not be an experimental chair but the commending heights of the TGIE. This is certainly not a time for such an experimental transition, but is rather a time for carefully prudent moves. A promising leader like Dr. Lobsang Sangay perfectly befits for the principal brain for the International Relations Kalon while harvesting massive experience and strategic intelligence as a transitional state of affairs to be the next Katri. This is an unsullied and unpretentious opinion from any influences and a rationally calculated voice of two concerned university students in the United State.

Pema Norbu, Earlham College, Indiana.
Palden Gyal, Duke University, NC.

First Published on Tibetan Political Review:

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