Practicies and Constitution
Interview with Penpa Tsering*, February 2007

issue : AT n°2 - 2007
author: Penpa Tsering
file : Democracy
other language: French

[*Penpa Tsering: Tibetan deputy (U-Tsang), co-chairman of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, Director of the Tibetan Parliamentary and Political Reaserch Center (TPPRC)]

Q: Till now the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has no political party system. Why?

P.T: The Tibetan Charter (Constitution) does not deal on the issue of Political Party. Presently we function as a party-less democracy, for some it has remained a theoretical intellectual concept but in our case it is a reality, partly because of the nature of our existence as an exiled government and partly because of the political expediency to retain the identity of traditional Tibet.

People's Republic of China persists that only Tibet Autonomous Region is Tibet. But for the Tibetans, the whole of Tibet including Kham and Amdo is Tibet. The equal representation of Provinces in the Parliament in Exile irrespective of the number of Tibetans from each province in exile is based on this political imperative than unequal rights. Given the fact that about 75% (appox.) of the Tibetans are from Central Tibet (U-Tsang) and the rest from Kham and Amdo, naturally gives rise to belief that equal suffrage or one man one vote would tilt the representation to one province, which in turn would be a powerful tool in the hands of China to divide the Tibetans inside Tibet.

Of course this must be one of the most debated issues in the exiled community over the last 35 years but no one has been able to come up with a solution that could satisfy all. And there are proponents of different theories on this concept. It seems very unlikely for the situation to change in Exile but once we get back to Tibet, the reasons I have mentioned above holds no water and the polity then would be guided by the "Guidelines for Future Tibet" by His Holiness.

But then again one cannot rule out possibilities of political parties within the present structure of representation. So far no other party has emerged other than the Democratic Party of Tibet. May be the time has not come or people do not see the need for one to make it more complex.

Q: However would it not be useful to harmonize the Tibetan system of election and then to let or encourage the suffrage be expressed according to the political objectives and programs carried by political parties?

P.T: One thing that needs to be kept in mind is that the government in Exile has no hand in forming or closing political parties. The democratic party of Tibet was formed and it still exists. Why it is not successful is a different story. Sometimes I wonder as to why people who feel very strongly about political parties do not form one on their own or collectively with other people. On the other hand political parties need definite political ideology and programs and leadership. Either we are lacking in one or all, or we are satisfied with the way it is and focus on the (presumed) common goals.

There have been lots of discussions on universal suffrage and constituencies. Presently, the idea is that once we are elected from any province or religious tradition or constituencies such as Europe and North America, we represent all the six million Tibetans. When we talk about geographical constituencies, the chapter that deals with the structure of parliament has to be amended, which seems to be an impossible task at the moment. On the other hand, even if we manage to create geographical constituencies, the political implication on the overall movement of Tibet has to be considered, which in my view is more important than the uniqueness of our electoral system.

With regard to Universal Suffrage of one man one vote. Presently, monks, nuns and Ngag-pas get to vote 12 people, lay people in India, Bhutan and Nepal get to vote 10 people and Europe two and North America one. Except for murmurs within the community, there have not been persistent efforts to harmonize the system.

Like I said, it may be possible for political parties to function within the present structure, but I did not see any move from any quarters to effect such change.

Q: So do you confirm that NDPT or any new party can be represented through the TPiE and have its proper deputies?

P.T: I am sure it is possible. If a strong political party comes into being and campaigns vigorously based on their political ideology, within the religious, provincial and geographical constituencies, they certainly can. Same goes for the post of Kalon Tripa (equivalent to Prime Minister).

Q: When you succeed Mr. Karma Choephel to the post of Chairman of the TPiE, what arrangements will you make to encourage and establish a real political party system?

P.T: My mandate is to run the parliament in the best possible way without bias, to improve the image of the parliament and make the parliament more effective in its functioning. On political party system, I personally do not advocate for one at the moment and when I take over, I do not think the ground realities will change to initiate such moves.

Interview conducted by Mathieu Vernerey