March 14, 2011

To the members of the Fourteenth Assembly  of the Tibetan People’s Deputies,    

It is common knowledge that ancient Tibet,  consisting of three provinces (Cholkha-sum) was ruled  by a line  of forty-two Tibetan kings beginning with Nyatri Tsenpo (127 BCE), and  ending  with Tri Ralpachen (838 CE). Their rule spanned almost one thousand  years.  During that time, Tibet was known throughout Inner Asia as a powerful  nation,  comparable in military power and political influence with Mongolia and  China.  With the development of Tibetan literature, the richness and breadth of  the  religion and culture of Tibet meant that its civilisation was considered  second  only to that of India.   

Following the fragmentation of central  authority in the 9thth the frequent change of  rulers under  the Phagmo Drupas, Rinpungpas and Tsangpas over the next 380 years or so  resulted in a failure to maintain a unified Tibet. The absence of any  central  authority and frequent internal conflicts caused Tibet’s political power  to  decline. century, Tibet was governed by several  rulers  whose authority was limited to their respective fiefdoms. Tibetan unity  weakened with the passage of time. In the early 13 century,  both  China and Tibet came under the control of Genghis Khan. Although Drogon  Choegyal Phagpa restored the sovereignty of Tibet in the 1260s, and his  rule  extended across the three provinces,   

Since the Fifth Dalai Lama’s founding of  the Ganden Phodrang Government of Tibet in 1642, successive Dalai Lamas  have  been both the spiritual and temporal leaders of Tibet. During the reign  of the  Fifth Dalai Lama, all the 13 myriarchies or administrative districts of  Tibet  enjoyed political stability, Buddhism flourished in Tibet and the  Tibetan  people enjoyed peace and freedom.   

During the late 19th and early  20th centuries, Tibet not only lacked adequate political  governance,  but also missed the opportunity to develop effective international  relations.  The Thirteenth Dalai Lama assumed temporal power in 1895, but was  compelled to  flee to Mongolia and China in 1904, due to the invasion of British  forces, and  to India in 1910, when the Manchu China invaded. Once circumstances  allowed him  to return to Tibet, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama re-asserted Tibetan  sovereignty  in 1913. As a result of what he had learned in exile, the Thirteenth  Dalai Lama  introduced modern education and made reforms to strengthen the  government of  Tibet. Although these steps produced positive results, he was unable to  fulfil  his overall vision, as is evident from his last political testament of  1932,  the year before his death. Despite the lacklustre political leadership  and  short-comings of the regents and their administrations, the Ganden  Phodrang  Government has on the whole provided stable governance for the last four  centuries.    

Since I was young, I have been aware of an  urgent need to modernize the Tibetan political system. At the age of  sixteen, I  was compelled to assume political leadership. At that time I lacked a  thorough  understanding of Tibet’s own political system, let alone international  affairs.   

However, I had a strong wish to introduce  appropriate reforms in accordance with the changing times and was able  to  effect some fundamental changes. Unfortunately, I was unable to carry  these  reforms any further due to circumstances beyond my control.    

Soon after our arrival in India in April  1959, we set up departments with Kalons (Ministers) in charge of  education,  preservation of culture and the rehabilitation and welfare of the  community.  Similarly, in 1960, aware of the importance of democratization, the  first  Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies was elected and in 1963 we  promulgated  the Draft Constitution for a Future Tibet.   

No system of governance can ensure  stability and progress if it depends solely on one person without the  support  and participation of the people in the political process. One man rule  is both  anachronistic and undesirable. We have made great efforts to strengthen  our  democratic institutions to serve the long-term interests of the six  million  Tibetans, not out of a wish to copy others, but because democracy is the  most  representative system of governance. In 1990, a committee was formed to  draft  the Charter for Tibetans-in-Exile and a year later the total strength of  the  Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (ATPD), the Tibetans in exile’s  highest  law-making body, was increased. In 1991, the Eleventh ATPD formally  adopted the  Charter for Tibetans-in-Exile and assumed all legislative authority.  Given the  limitations of our life in exile these are achievements of which we can  be  proud.  

In 2001, the Tibetan people elected the  Kalon Tripa, the political leader, directly for the first time. Since  then, I  have been in semi-retirement, no longer involving myself in the  day-to-day  administration, but able to dedicate more time to general human welfare.

The essence of a democratic system is, in  short, the assumption of political responsibility by elected leaders for  the  popular good. In order for our process of democratization to be  complete, the  time has come for me to devolve my formal authority to such an elected  leadership. The general lack of experience and political maturity in our  democratic institutions has prevented us from doing this earlier.   

Given that the line of Dalai Lamas has  provided political leadership for nearly four centuries, it might be  difficult  for Tibetans generally and especially those in Tibet to envisage and  accept a  political system that is not led by the Dalai Lama. Therefore, over the  past 50  years I have tried in various ways to raise people’s political awareness  and  encourage their participation in our democratic process.   

In my 10th March statement of  1969, for instance, I stated, “When the day comes for Tibet to be  governed by  its own people, it will be for the people to decide as to what form of  government they will have. The system of governance by the line of the  Dalai  Lamas may or may not be there. In particular, the opinion of the  forward-looking younger generation will be an influential factor.”    

Similarly, in my 10th March  statement of 1988, I stated, “As I have said many times, even the  continuation  of the institution of the Dalai Lama is for the people to decide.” Since  the  1980s, I have repeatedly advised the Kashag, ATPD and the public that  Tibetans  should take full responsibility for the administration and welfare of  the  people as if the Dalai Lama were not there.    

I informed the Chairman of the Thirteenth  ATPD and the then Chief Justice Commissioner that I should be relieved  of  functions related to my political and administrative status, including  such  ceremonial responsibilities as the signing of bills adopted by the  legislative  body. However, my proposal was not even considered. On 31st  August  2010, during the First Tibetan General Meeting (organized by ATPD), I  explained  this again in detail. Now, a decision on this important matter should be  delayed no longer. All the necessary amendments to the Charter and other  related regulations should be made during this session so that I am  completely  relieved of formal authority.   

I want to acknowledge here that many of my  fellow Tibetans, inside and outside Tibet, have earnestly requested me  to  continue to give political leadership at this critical time. My  intention to  devolve political authority derives neither from a wish to shirk  responsibility  nor because I am disheartened. On the contrary, I wish to devolve  authority solely  for the benefit of the Tibetan people in the long run. It is extremely  important that we ensure the continuity of our exile Tibetan  administration and  our struggle until the issue of Tibet has been successfully resolved.   

If we have to remain in exile for several  more decades, a time will inevitably come when I will no longer be able  to  provide leadership. Therefore, it is necessary that we establish a sound  system  of governance while I remain able and healthy, in order that the exile  Tibetan  administration can become self-reliant rather than being dependent on  the Dalai  Lama. If we are able to implement such a system from this time onwards, I  will  still be able to help resolve problems if called upon to do so. But, if  the  implementation of such a system is delayed and a day comes when my  leadership  is suddenly unavailable, the consequent uncertainty might present an  overwhelming challenge. Therefore, it is the duty of all Tibetans to  make every  effort to prevent such an eventuality.   

As one among the six million Tibetans,  bearing in mind that the Dalai Lamas have a special  historic and karmic  relationship with the  Tibetan people, and as long as Tibetans place their trust and faith in  me, I  will continue to serve the cause of Tibet.    

Although Article 31 of the Charter spells  out provisions for a Council of Regency, it was formulated merely as an  interim  measure based on past traditions. It does not include provisions for  instituting a system of political leadership without the Dalai Lama.  Therefore,  amendments to the Charter on this occasion must conform to the framework  of a  democratic system in which the political leadership is elected by the  people  for a specific term. Thus, all the necessary steps must be taken,  including the  appointment of separate committees, to amend the relevant Articles of  the  Charter and other regulations, in order that a decision can be reached  and  implemented during this very session.   

As a result, some of my political  promulgations such as the Draft Constitution for a Future Tibet (1963)  and  Guidelines for Future Tibet’s Polity (1992) will become ineffective. The  title  of the present institution of the Ganden Phodrang headed by the Dalai  Lama should  also be changed accordingly.    

With my prayers for the successful  proceedings of the house.    Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai  Lama    11th March 2011   

Note: Translated from the  Tibetan  original, which should be considered final and authoritative.

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