Like their counterparts around the world, Tibetans in Taiwan yesterday cast votes for their next kalon tripa, Tibetan for “prime minister,” at two poll stations in Taoyuan and Taipei.
Despite it being Sunday yesterday, many Tibetans rose early to go to the polling stations to cast their ballots for the next head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, who will also be the first kalon tripa after the Tibetan spiritual and political leader the Dalai Lama announced his retirement from secular affairs earlier this month.
“This election is a very important one, since whoever becomes the kalon tripa this time will likely lead the Tibetans in exile for the next decade, which means he will probably have to lead the Tibetans in a time without the Dalai Lama,” Tsering Tashi, a Tibetan who lives in Greater Kaohsiung, but who traveled to Taipei to cast his vote, told the Taipei Times after voting.
Photo: Loa Iok-sin, Taipei Times.
Imprisoned in China for two years for publishing a book about his views on the future of Tibet, Tsering made his escape across the Himalayas and cherishes the freedom and the rights he now enjoys.
Taiwan Friends of Tibet president Chow Mei-li (周美里) highlighted the importance of the election.
“With the Dalai Lama having announced his retirement from his political role, the new kalon tripa is likely to be the first elected Tibetan head of state in history,” she said. “We are really witnessing a historic moment.”
According to the Constitution of the Exiled Tibetans and the Election Act of the Exiled Tibetans, all Tibetan citizens over the age of 18 are eligible to register to vote in kalon tripa and parliamentary elections.
A Tibetan citizen is defined as one who has at least one parent who is Tibetan and who voluntarily pays the annual tax to the exiled government.
A Tibetan citizen over the age of 35 could run for kalon tripa, provided he obtained the endorsement of 25 Tibetans.
The kalon tripa is elected directly by eligible voters to a five-year term and can be re-elected to one additional term.
In the past, candidates for kalon tripa were nominated by the Dalai Lama and elected by the Tibetan parliament-in-exile. However, since 2001, at the insistence of the Dalai Lama, the Constitution was revised to allow direct suffrage.
“Although there are more than 300 Tibetans in Taiwan, there are only 44 eligible voters for this election,” said Dawa Tsering, chairman of the Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the de facto embassy of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Taiwan, who also served as the chief supervisor of the polling station in Taipei yesterday.
Dawa said as many as 17 people signed up for the pre-election that took place in October, but only three decided to remain in the formal election yesterday.
“There’s no rule stipulating who can stay in the formal election, it’s all up to the candidate to decide whether he or she has a chance based on the result of the pre-election,” he said, adding that, however, the election law stipulates that there have to be at least two candidates in the kalon tripa election.
The three candidates in the election were Lobsang Sangay, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Tashi Wangdi.
A visiting research fellow at the East Asian Legal Program at Harvard Law School and the first Tibetan to receive a doctorate in law at the university, the 42-year-old Lobsang has garnered 22,489 votes in the pre-election, while Tethong, a former kalon tripa, a diplomat and a member of a family that has held several official positions in the exiled government, came in second, with 12,319 votes, while Tashi Wangdi, the Representative of the Dalai Lama to the EU, secured 2,101 votes in the pre-election.
Tsering Tashi did not hide his support for Lobsang.
“It’s time for some changes in the Tibetan government-in-exile,” he said. “Also, I think it’s important for someone from the younger generation to serve in the government when the Dalai Lama and other experienced officials are still around.”
Tenzin Chunpel, a 37-year-old Tibetan living in Taipei, said he also voted for Lobsang for similar reasons, adding that if elected, Lobsang would be the youngest Tibetan prime minister in history.
Khedroob Thondup, a former member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, said that having been born in exile and educated in the US, Lobsang had brought some US campaign strategies that are quite new to the Tibetans.
“Kalon tripa elections have been quiet in the past, with almost no campaign activities,” Khedroob told the Taipei Times. “However, this time, Lobsang has been touring Tibetan settlements in the US, in India and elsewhere, explaining his ideas to voters face-to-face. He even invited his rivals to debates. These are all new to Tibetans.”
Lobsang is young, active and relatively inexperienced in administrative affairs, while his two older opponents — both in their 60s — are fully experienced administrators. However, Khedroob said it was hard to see who was better qualified.
The de facto Tibetan embassy said a total of 40 people voted yesterday, with 33 voting for Lobsang, four for Tashi and three for Tethong.
The numbers will be sent to the Central Election Commission in Dharamsala, India, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and the final vote count will be released on April 27, Dawa said.
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