Two very different leadership changes

By Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha

The highly speculated leadership change in China later this year has brought back a memory of very different leadership change in exile Tibetan community a year back, where an ordinary citizen like me had an active role in choosing our Kalon Tripa (now Sikyong) or political leader of Tibet.

On 20th March 2011, I got up early and rushed to the Polling Booth with pride and excitement like everyone else, proud in electing our own leader and excited about the possible election outcome. Through this democratic election in Exile Tibetan Community, a young charismatic and Harvard educated Dr. Lobsang Sangay won the Kalon Tripa election 2011 with 55% of the nearly 50,000 total vote cast. This is a very small number in comparison to the 1.3 billion plus Chinese, but here we are talking about democratic elections and not factional bargaining. I really wonder how many democratic votes Xi Jinping would require to govern the nation and how far those electoral rights extend beyond few privileged Communist top brass?
There are many more questions but Chinese citizens are not entitled to question the government. They can only speculate like the world has done in recent months about factional infighting before the 18th National Congress to choose the next batch of Chinese leaders. The rubber stamp National Congress will unanimously endorse every proposal put forth by the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee without any deliberation. This highly opaque and undemocratic process in Chinese political transition makes us realize the fact that the built up to our Kalon Tripa election has been very democratic, transparent and exciting.
The excitements were bursting out in the streets with Kalon Tripa candidates putting up their campaign posters in every visible corner. As the time for preliminary elections approached, the number of candidates narrowed down to six prominent figures and I was pretty sure of my choice of candidate after reading, listening and watching many debates and campaigns. I wanted our new Kalon Tripa to be someone who could lead Tibetan people as well as take firm and occasionally unpopular but visionary decisions. But in China a different kind of election is fought within Communist Party where different factions secretly play deadly ploys against each other. This means Mr. Xi has to survive the infighting to win the Party’s support and not the general public.
Whereas, Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s triumph as the Kalon Tripa was through intensive campaign to win every vote, travel every settlement, answer numerous queries to convince the general public that he can deliver the task assigned to a Kalon Tripa. The 37.42 percent vote won by Kasur Tethong Tenzin Namgyal is a strong indication of political maturity and diverse views found in every free society.
But in China there is neither election nor candidates to represent the masses. The Chinese government would present yet another musical play on 8th November 2012, where 18th National Congress would endorse and applaud everything put forth like a good comrade who never questions or dare to question. That is why the general public in China doesn’t give a damn who would the next president of PRC would be, because billion plus Chinese citizens are irrelevant in this once in a decade leadership change. Whereas, the Kalon Tripa of Tibet had the electoral verdict of the exile Tibetan community stretching 30 different countries, as well as the love, the songs and the moral votes from Tibet.
Unlike in China where everything happens within the forbidden palace and people could watch only on CCTV, I was among thousands of ordinary citizens and political leaders sharing the same podium during Kalon Tripa Oath ceremony to cheer for the occasion with joy, hope and pride. There were two sights during that function which I will tell and retell my children and grandchildren.
First, how His Holiness the Dalai Lama held our new Kalon Tripa’s head firmly in his chest for few minutes of silent prayers and blessings like 7th Dalai Lama did when the Kashag(Cabinet) was first set up. The very sight brought tears in my eyes and I did little prayer of my own for the success of new Kalon Tripa in bringing freedom to all Tibetans.
The other sight was when the incumbent Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rimpoche handed over the 260 years old sovereign Seal Dekyima to Kalon Tripa elect Dr. Lobsang Sangay, which signifies historical legitimacy and continuity of the Kashag which existed since 1751.
Finally in a thank you message, the new Kalon Tripa said: “With profound humility I accept the Tibetan people’s support and the post of Kalon Tripa.” I really wonder who the new Chinese president would thank, the Chinese people or the Communist party?
Obviously there can be no similarity between the world’s largest authoritarian government and the world’s smallest democracy. That’s why we love our leaders while Chinese fear their government.

NOTE-- This article is initially published on Tibet Tv online.

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