The political nature of the Tibetan people in exile today stands fully transformed in the mould of the excellence of the democratic system and for this we owe a great debt of gratitude to the awe-inspiring efforts and accomplishments of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the friend without acquaintanceship of all sentient beings, including of the gods in the heavens; the master on this earth of the entire corpus of the teachings of the Buddha; a champion of world peace, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the omniscient one who is lavish in granting wishes and favours. Today, the 15th day of the 7th month of the Tibetan Royal Year 2147 – which corresponds to the 2nd day of September 2020 – is a unique day that marks the completion of 60 years since that transformative move was made. For this we, to begin with, offer our prostrations to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a way to express our obeisance of gratitude to Him. Also, on this momentous occasion of the establishment of Tibetan democracy, the Tibetan Parliament in Exile wishes to offer its heartfelt greetings of affection and good wishes to all the Tibetan people in Tibet and in exile, governments, parliaments, Tibet support groups, and peace-loving people across the world who have been supporting Tibet and the Tibetan people.
The democratic system is one that does away with any need to treat people as high or low, keeping in mind the traditional class stratifications in human society that are based on the question whether one is powerful or humble, rich or poor, man or woman, what one’s bloodline is and so on. Rather, it takes into view the interests and concerns of everyone or the general public on the basis of the ideology of the equality of everyone in society. It takes the desires and wishes of the general public, rather than that of any section within it, as paramount. The courses of histories of nations across the world have been repleted with wars, uprisings, and struggles directed at efforts to achieve the realization of such a great ideal of politics and governance. Victories and defeats in these efforts have determined whether a nation succeeded or failed to establish democracy. And struggles to establish governments determined by the power of popular will are a continuing phenomenon in this world. However, as regards the system of democracy that now prevails in the Tibetan community, there never was any need for the people to sweat it out and shed blood through carrying out struggles, raising disturbances and so on even to a miniscule level. Rather, the Tibetan democracy is one that was gifted to the general Tibetan public by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his capacity as the nation’s spiritual leader and temporal head.
His Holiness saw the need for the Tibetan society to change in keeping with the need of the evolving times even when He was of very young age. So, immediately after assuming responsibility as Tibet’s spiritual leader and temporal head, He newly established, in 1952, a reform office as a separate initiative. Also, in 1954, He established in Tibet’s capital Lhasa a branch of the judicial system of Tibet where civil disputes were to be settled. With such and numerous other series of initiatives, His Holiness brought into play admirable deeds of kindness which were at once great as well as profound with a design to reform and improve in an orderly fashion the age-old traditional political and governance systems of Tibet. It was solely by means of the magnificence of and the blessings flowing from these acts of kindness that His Holiness devoted Himself to establishing a well off and joyous society of perfect bliss for the people of Tibet. However, his noble efforts were stymied by the growth of the power and brutality of the violent repression of the communist Chinese regime which took control of the religiously immersed land of Tibet. The development compelled His Holiness the Dalai Lama to make his way out of his homeland to India to become an exile.
Even under the enormity of the tangles of hardship in living conditions that the situation in exile entailed in the early years, His Holiness made it a point to immediately resume his efforts to carry out the visions he previously had to direct the political system of the Tibetan people to the path of democracy.
On the 3rd of February in 1960, a gathering of representatives from all the three traditional provinces and all the religious traditions of Tibet made a long-life offering to His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the sacred Bodh Gaya pilgrimage site. While at that time the representatives offered to Him a powerfully sworn oath in writing, giving solemn undertakings on the do’s and don’ts in the future courses of their conduct, His Holiness made it clear that the Tibetan system shall not remain as it was before, that it was most important that a democratic government system incorporating both religion and politics should be established. And so it was that on the 2nd of September in 1960, the members of the first parliament of the Tibetan people took their oath of office with offering of prostrations before His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And that was how, for the first time, the foundation of Tibetan democracy took place.
Then on the 10th of October in 1961, a document outlining the salient features of a democratic constitution for a future free Tibet was publicized. And based on suggestions received from the Tibetan public, additions, deletions, changes, as the case may be, were incorporated in its different articles wherever they were seen needed. A discussion was then held in Dharamsala with the involvement of the Tibetan public from both the lay and ecclesiastical orders as well as the members of the Tibetan parliament. Based on that discussion, His Holiness promulgated the constitution and made it clear that it will be implemented upon the very first instance of Tibet regaining its independence. Later, in His message during the commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising on the 10th of March in 1963, His Holiness made a proclamation of the draft constitution for a future free Tibet. On that basis, His Holiness formally announced the actual democratisation of the character of the Tibetan administration in exile, including with the issuing of the requirement for the Tibetan people living in exile to elect by popular ballot representatives to the parliament who would represent both them and fellow-Tibetans living in Tibet under the Chinese occupation rule. From the 2nd of September in 1975, the day formally began to be commemorated as Tibetan Democracy Day, and this has continued uninterrupted to this day.
From the beginning of the year 1980, His Holiness issued a series of advisories on the number of members of the Tibetan parliament and of the Kashag to be appropriately increased to fulfil the need to make them more successful in carrying out their roles. Besides, His Holiness also sought views in a series of moves, including by inviting suggestions from the Tibetan public, on the question whether there was a need to appoint a prime minister to head the Kashag. Later in May 1990, a special general meeting of some 369 representatives of the Tibetan people living in exile was called at which a resolution was passed providing for the election of an interim Kashag, to further increase the number of members of the Tibetan parliament and on other matters. His Holiness the Dalai Lama made a direct appointment of a Constitution Review Committee and during the session on the 14th of June in 1991 of the 11th Tibetan parliament, the Charter of the Tibetans in exile was adopted. His Holiness granted his assent to the Charter on the 28th of June the same year. Following these developments, the administrative set up of the Tibetan people in exile became one that had a constitutional basis and one that was in accord with any mainstream modern democratic system.
In the year 2001, in keeping with his message that year, calling for the amendment of the Charter of the Tibetans in exile, His Holiness took semi-retirement from the political affairs of Tibet. And the political leadership began to be determined by the election of a Kalon Tripa by popular ballot. This was a big step in the process for the democratisation of the Tibetan administrative set up.
The Charter of the Tibetans in exile had provided that successive reincarnations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be the administrative leader of the Tibetan government and the head of the Tibetan state. Nevertheless, in order to complete the democratisation process, keeping solely in view both the current and future long-term interests and wellbeing of the Tibetan people, His Holiness took the decision of utmost significance in 2011 of transferring all the governmental and political powers that His great Gaden Phodrang authority had held for the past nearly 400 years to a leadership directly elected by the Tibetan people. His Holiness thereby ensure that the Central Tibetan Administration became one that was stable, rooted in the foundation of rule of law, and incorporating the excellence of modern democratic ethos.
In the course of further evolvement of Tibetan democracy, a total of some 27 statutes and regulations, including the Charter of the Tibetans in exile and the election law, have been amended or finalized thus far. Likewise, numerous changes have been made over the years in the nomenclature of the Tibetan parliament, the number of members of the Tibetan parliament, the term of their membership, and so on. When first established, the parliament was called “Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies” when rendered in English. And during the seventh parliament, the name was changed to “Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies”. This happened on the 18th of January in 1980. Again during the 14th parliament, the name was further changed to “Tibetan Parliament in Exile”. And this is the name that is currently in use. Likewise, the head and deputy head of the parliament were referred to as the Chairman and Vice Chairman. These were later changed to Speaker and Deputy Speaker through an amendment move. The Tibetan parliament, when established for the first time, had 13 members. Gradually, over time, and in keeping with the requirements at different times, changes by increasing or reducing the number of members were made. Currently, the membership of the parliament consists of 10 members each representing the three traditional provinces of Tibet, two members each representing the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet’s pre-Buddhist religion Bon. Besides, there are two members in the parliament representing the Tibetan people living in Europe and South Africa, two members representing the Tibetan people living in North and South America. And there is one member representing the Tibetan people living in the Australasia and Asia (excluding India, Nepal, and Bhutan). The total membership of the Tibetan parliament in Exile at present is thus 45. Regarding the term of membership of the Tibetan parliament, it was three years till the 7th parliament. The term was increased to five years from the 8th parliament. This has remained the same at present. To sum up, during the past 60 years, there have been a series of reformative changes in the system of the Tibetan administration which were made in keeping with the requirements that emerged at different times. The Tibetan people now directly elect their own leaders to the post of Sikyong and to the membership of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile through popular ballots. And Tibetans are able to ensure that their wellbeing and concerns are addressed and future projects for these purposes prioritised through their elected leaders in the two annual parliament sessions known as the Budget Session and the General Session. Likewise, local justice commissions and local Tibetan assemblies, which are vital parts of the three pillars of democracy, as well as settlements offices, offices of representatives abroad, and offices of the Tibetan Freedom Movement have also been set up on a firm footing. As of now there are 38 local Tibetan assemblies in the Tibetan communities in India, Nepal, and Bhutan besides one in other countries abroad, making for a total of 39 local Tibetan assemblies. Besides, there are 50 settlement offices, 13 Offices of Tibet, and 75 offices of the Tibetan Freedom Movement. Through the multiplicity of these organizational set ups, the Tibetan people in exile are able to fully exercise their basic democratic rights and freedoms. The Middle Way Policy of the Central Tibetan Administration is also one that has been adopted by the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. The fact that in such a situation of living in exile as we are today, the existence of such democratic ways and means to address the problems of the Tibetan citizenry and to establish such a policy stand of the Central Tibetan Administration has become an unceasing object of admiration and praise by many free and independent countries.
Just recently, over August 28 and 29, the so-called seventh Central Symposium on Tibet Work of the central authorities of the People’s Republic of China was held in Beijing. Reports suggested that those who took part in that symposium were the top leaders of China that included its president Xi Jinping, as well as the senior leaders of the different areas of Tibet such as the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region into which China has fragmented the historical Tibet. At that time, Xi Jinping has said: “The organization and authority of the Party should be strengthened as a way to safeguard national security and enduring peace and stability, to safeguard the maintenance and steady improvement of people’s living standard, to safeguard the efforts to improve the environmental situation, and to solidify border defence and ensure frontier security. Great efforts must be made to build a new modern socialist Tibet that is united, prosperous, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful.” He was also reported to have said: “The work to guide Tibetan Buddhism in adapting to the socialist society and to develop it in the Chinese context under its laws should be fully pursued.” He has also said: “Work related to Tibet must be based and focused on safeguarding national unity and strengthening ethnic solidarity. More education and guidance should be provided for the public to mobilize their participation in combating separatist activities, thereby contributing to the building of an impregnable fortress for stability in Tibet. Education must strongly focus on providing correct guidance on the history of the communist Party of China, the history of the new China, the history of China’s reform and opening up, and the development of the socialist system. And by focusing deeply on the relationship between the local Tibet region and the Chinese motherland in the education curriculum, the people of the various ethnic groups should be guided to develop excellent viewpoints about nationhood, about history, about ethnic nationalities, about culture, and about religion.” And so on. What emerges clear from this symposium is that the government of China had no intention whatsoever to bring any change to its hard-line, repressive policy in Tibet. What is more, the symposium made it clear that China’s plan was to further its publicity efforts directed at the distortion of the history of Tibet, the reorientation of its culture, and the adulteration of its religious traditions. Meetings like these are therefore nothing but showpieces designed to mislead the outside world while their real objective is to transform Tibet, the home of the Tibetan people, into a land of Chinese people.
When putting into practice such an admirable democratic system that we have been able to establish, it is imperative that we eschew the spirit of combative rivalry that has as its underlying objective the boasting of victory for oneself and the humility of defeat for the other side. In particular, it should be ensured that during the upcoming Sikyong and parliament elections in 2021, there will be exercise of due propriety by the citizens of Tibet – as defined in the Charter of the Tibetans in exile – while carrying out their democratic duties and exercising their democratic rights. As a way to achieve this, it should be taken as off-limits for anyone to engage in any activity that would adversely affect inter-provincial and inter-religious traditions unity of the Tibetan people, that would be offensive to the sacred wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and, likewise, that would undermine the courage and fortitude of the Tibetan people living in Tibet. It is most important therefore that there be no violations and mistakes being made by any anyone in these matters. In particular, we have the task to defeat a minority of elements within us who have deliberately set for themselves an agenda to disrupt the integral unity that exists under the noble leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama among the followers of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the Bon religion as well as the people of the three traditional provinces of Tibet defined by the ethos of being together as one through thick and thin. There are certainly great dangers when on occasions an unthinking minority of Tibetan people fall victim to the machinations of deception plotted by such troublemakers and thereby unwittingly make common cause with them. Everyone therefore has the duty to exercise utmost caution by raising their awareness about it and to watch out for such dangers. We therefore appeal to the Tibetan people to remain on vigil towards such dangers.
More than eight months have passed since the outbreak of the Covid-19 global pandemic which first occurred in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Worryingly, there is still no proven vaccine to immunise people from the infection. What is more, unlike other kinds of infectious diseases, it has proven to be most difficult to make predictions about the behaviour of the Covid-19 pandemic and most countries of the world are continuing to struggle against it and its effects. The Tibetan Parliament in Exile wishes to express empathy with the people of these countries. In the case of India too, the pandemic spread rapidly day by day since its initial outbreak and this trend continues today. Nationwide lockdowns were imposed, to be followed by unlock measures which have been carried out four times thus far. The result of these unlock measures has been that the infection continued to spread even more rapidly and its dangers have spread ever more. Hence, everyone should take preventive measures against the spread of the pandemic in a proper manner. For this purpose the measure against the spread of the disease announced by the governments of the concern countries, including the standard operating procedures, should be strictly adhere to with a great amount of seriousness. The 16th Tibetan Parliament in Exile had no option at this time but to postpone the holding of its 10th session because of the spread of the pandemic. The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile also had to cancel all the national and international official visitation programs of its delegations. Although the parliament had chalked out plans to work for the setting up of Tibet support groups in the legislative assemblies of Indian states where Tibetan communities exist and for the revival of the All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet at the national level, these have been obstructed by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It bears no mentioning that it is owing solely to the kindness of and tireless efforts made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama throughout his life for the sake of the nation and people of Tibet that we have been able to achieve success in the democratic transformation of our political system. Apart from that, during the past 60 years of our living in exile, and for the protection of our political set up, religion, culture, and language; and in our struggle for our fundamental cause, we have received guidance, facilitation and friendship at all times, apart mainly from our host government and people of India, from numerous other governments and peoples abroad as well. To all of them we take the opportunity provided by this occasion to express our enormous debt of gratitude.
And, in conclusion, we pray that His Holiness the Dalai Lama may continue to live for a hundred aeons, that all his wishes may be seen fulfilled with spontaneity, and that the just cause of Tibet may be definitely seen to prevail.
The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile
2 September 2020
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* In case of any discrepancy between this English translation and its Tibetan original, the latter should be considered authoritative and final for all purposes.