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Democracy and Unity: The Pillars of Tibetan Exile Governance

OPINION

Prof. Nawang Phuntsog* cautions that the deadlock and the precarious democracy in Dharamsala have the potential to diminish international support for the Tibetan cause and urges bolstering the Tibetan public’s commitment to unite rather than divide us to correct the situation.

(TibetanReview.net, Aug20’23)

In the aftermath of China’s incursion into Tibet, the Tibetan people’s urgent struggle for independence and cultural preservation birthed a distinctive exile community. At the heart of this community lies a democratic system—a transformative departure from age-old traditions, conceived and promoted by His Holiness after seeking refuge in India. His vision insightfully asserts that democracy’s vitality or fragility is inherently connected to public engagement.

With steadfast determination, despite substantial cultural, social, political, and economic challenges inherent in establishing Tibetan communities abroad, His Holiness laid the groundwork for future Tibet’s democratic constitution on March 10, 1963. This declaration likely astonished China, representing a shrewd political maneuver that effectively neutralized any attempt by China to label Tibet as a feudalistic nation.

The success of democracy correlates directly with the degree of public participation, while its sustainability is inversely related to both vertical and horizontal dimensions of engagement. The vertical dimension involves the various branches of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), while the horizontal focuses on the general public’s awareness and mobilization. The present deadlock and the precarious state of democracy in Dharamsala can be attributed directly to the public’s apathy. It is our duty to remain alert and elect individuals who will strengthen democratic institutions. In this context, public participation in the newly formed General Public Advocacy Body, with specific demands for the Tibetan Parliament to enact, is vital to fostering a thriving Tibetan democracy in exile. This democracy serves as a precursor to Tibet’s future democratic society. Please lend your support to the mobilization, so it may serve as a guiding light for future endeavors when unsettling situations emerge.

Whether or not it is formally and explicitly acknowledged, the readiness of other governments and their agencies to cooperate with our government in exile implies a recognition of a legitimate governmental structure. This system, reinforced by checks and balances across the three pillars of democracy, instills confidence and accountability in those who support our cause.

The protection and cultivation of democratic institutions are central to our relentless pursuit of our goals. A unified institutional framework is crucial for presenting a coherent voice to the world. The CTA stands as a proud symbol for Tibetans within and beyond Tibet, as the sole viable channel for expressing our hopes, grievances, and challenges. The prospect of our collective influence diminishing due to a fragmented, weakened, and inconsistent organization is deeply troubling.

How can we bolster our institutions and participation? Primarily, we must cherish our Tibetan identity, rooted in shared history, language, and spirituality. We should consider regional and sectarian affiliations for their potential to enhance a healthy national identity. Our fight for freedom is for Tibet as a nation, not for a specific region or sect. We are recognized as Tibetans first; secondary identifications may follow or not at all.

We must identify and nurture the cultural traditions that unite rather than divide us, and actively promote them within our schools and communities. Such an endeavor is essential to fostering a robust Tibetan nationalist spirit that we must all nurture, champion, and espouse. The spirit of Tibet resonates within each of us. Tibet is ours, and no one can take it from us.

*  Dr. Nawang Phuntsog is a Professor Emeritus of the Department of Elementary & Bilingual Education, California State University, Fullerton, USA, and a founding member of www.tibetaneducationadvancement.org

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