Today, we have come together to celebrate Tibetan Democracy which turns fifty-five years. On this joyous occasion, I, on behalf of the Kashag, extend heartfelt greetings to my fellow Tibetans both inside Tibet and in exile, and our friends around the world. My colleagues and I offer our deepest respect and bow down in gratitude to Tibet’s most revered leader His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama for conscientiously pioneering and tirelessly steering a democratic system for the wellbeing of Tibetan people. This gift has been the most inspiring and transformative experience to the Tibetan people.
We can take pride in the fact that Tibetan administration in exile is functioning fully in accordance with democratic system. Our existing democratic polity, admired and recognized by many non-Tibetans, is not an outcome of people having fought or sacrificed for it; rather it is a precious gift from His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama. This is undoubtedly one of the legacies of His Holiness to which the Tibetan people should remain eternally grateful. Extolling the contributions made by His Holiness, the US Senate Resolution #200 states that it recognizes “the Dalai Lama for a lifelong commitment and outstanding contribution to the promotion of non-violence, human rights, religious tolerance, environmental awareness, and democracy”.
Fifty-five years ago, on this day, the first elected Tibetan people’s representatives took their oath of office not long after the great-oath (Na-gyen Chenmo) taking event of Bodh-Gaya. Since then this historic date came to be celebrated as the Tibetan Democracy Day. Few years later, representatives of Tibetan women were first elected in 1963 and representatives of Bon religion were elected in 1977.
The Constitution of Tibet promulgated by His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama in 1963 contained provisions allowing his own impeachment which was against the wishes of the Tibetan people. In 1991, the Charter of the Tibetan People adopted by the Tibetan Parliament and enacted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama came into force. The Charter provided enlargement of the Tibetan Parliament with powers to elect members of the Kashag after nomination of candidates by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In 1992, the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission was formed, thereby completing the establishment of three pillars of democracy. In accordance with provisions of chapter seven, members of Local Tibetan Assemblies and settlement officers are elected by the people in the Tibetan settlements.
The first direct election of Kalon Tripa, executive head of Central Tibetan Administration, was successfully achieved after the amendment of the Charter in 2001. A decade later His Holiness the Dalai Lama made an unprecedented and a historic change with announcement of devolution of his political powers. After transferring all his political authority to the elected leader or Sikyong, His Holiness the Dalai Lama declared on August 08, 2011 the fulfillment of ‘ long cherished goal’ of bringing democracy to the Tibetan people. This major transition could have been tumultuous and it was without a doubt a test for all of us. But contrary to initial anxiety, the transition remained smooth mainly due to the strong support and faith reposed by the Tibetan people in the democratic system. Practicing democracy in exile has shown that Buddhism is compatible with democracy, as is all major religious traditions. National elections to be held in two Buddhist countries such as Burma and Taiwan on November 08, 2015 and January 16, 2016 respectively clearly shows that democratic system is generally liked and accepted by people everywhere irrespective of the circumstances and political conditions prevailing in their countries. Democracy therefore is universal without being culture specific or development specific.
The Tibetan people will once again participate in the election of Sikyong and members of the Tibetan Parliament in exile. The dates determined for the preliminary and final election are October 18, 2015 and March 20, 2016 respectively. It is important for every eligible Tibetan voter to follow and take part in the election process. Due consideration should be given to the existing political situation inside Tibet, conditions in exile and the larger aspirations of the Tibetan people when electing capable leaders. Using this opportunity, we urge each and every candidate standing for election and their supporters to uphold traditional moral and ethical values while engaging in the election processes. Our resolve for democracy should be a clear message of our democratic spirit of free will to international community and China. Our brethrens in Tibet will doubtlessly derive strength from the robust participation and decisive outcome.
It is truly heartening that the world is taking note of Tibetan democracy in exile. The Sikyong election four years ago not only received good media coverage, it got featured in government statements. More specifically, it got mentioned in the US Senate Resolution # 356. As regards the upcoming Tibetan election, the US House Resolution # 337 of July 8, 2015 clearly calls on the US Government “to recognize and increase global public awareness and monitoring of the upcoming election process through which the Tibetan people in exile will choose the next democratically elected leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Sikyong.”
For the 14th Kashag, this is the fifth democracy day since assuming executive responsibility of Central Tibetan Administration. Over the years, democracy in exile has become more mature and public discourse more substantive. We can say with confidence that democracy will only grow and become stronger in the near future. Democracy is here to stay and through the system, the Tibet movement is bound to succeed and sustain itself.
Our objective of alleviating the sufferings of Tibetan people inside Tibet remains unchanged. Although Runggye Adak and few other political prisoners were released, there are many others still languishing in Chinese prisons. The recent death of Trulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Chinese prison signals continuing hard line policy of the Chinese government. There are reports that China is going to observe the 50th anniversary of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region which will be attended by Beijing’s top leaders. However, judging the ground reality of Tibet there is no cause for celebration. The Tibetan people’s aspirations and the wishes of 142 self-immolators remain unfulfilled.
It is hoped that the Chinese government led by Xi Jinping will soon realize that dialogue is the only viable solution for a peaceful resolution of the issue of Tibet. The Kashag reaffirms its commitment to the Middle Way Approach. Our approach and its practicality of benefitting both the party has generated appreciation and support from around the world. The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs has called for dialogue between the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and representatives of Chinese government during her visit to Beijing in May 2015. Similarly, Mr. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council has urged China on June 29, 2015 to restart dialogue with envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Speaking at a press conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Brussels, he said, “I expressed our concerns for freedom of expression and association in China including people belonging to minorities, including Tibetans and Uighurs. In that context, I have urged China to restart a meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representative.”
In conclusion, we would like to express heartfelt gratitude to the international community, especially the Tibet support groups, individuals and organizations for supporting the just and non-violent struggle of the Tibetan people. In particular, we owe profound gratitude to the people and government of India for according highest respect to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for generously hosting the Tibetan people. No words are adequate enough to express the depth of gratitude Tibetan people have to this great nation.
Finally, we wholeheartedly and sincerely pray for the long life of our most esteemed leader His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama. May the truth and non-violent cause of Tibet prevail soon.
September 2, 2015