By Sonam Dorjee, Toronto
It is incredible to have read many thoughtful write-ups on the 2016 Sikyong election and its candidates from all spectrums of ideological thinking in the Tibetan politics in exile; captivating perspectives on candidates’ stand, ideas, and manifestos are well-expressed. The uploaded interviews and panel discussions programs on the web are remarkably well-done in terms of highlighting candidate’s strengths and weaknesses before the voters. More interestingly, a discussion on Sikyong Candidates on social media, mainly on the Facebook, is by far the best to have followed for its interactivity benefits to the Facebook users. However, amidst all of the above positive things happening in our cherished democratic process, absence of a female Sikyong candidate is apparent; the prospects of having a female Sikyong seems to have been conveniently written-off from our vibrant Tibetan politics in exile.
The discussion on female participation in the Tibetan politics in exile is nothing new to the Tibetan community. In the mid 1960’s, a positive step was taken to ensure representation of female deputies in the then Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies (CTPD), reserving one seat for a woman from each of the three traditional regions in Tibet. The seat reservation policy was implemented from the 2nd through 7th CTPD term. However, in 1974, the reservation for women in CTPD was eliminated; as a result, from 1982 to 1990, no female deputies were elected to the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE). The present Charter of Tibetans in Exile reserves two seats for women from each of the three traditional regions, a total of six reserved spots are available for women in the TPiE. The 15th TPiE term has 8 female deputies representing three traditional regions of Tibet, which is still just above the reserve quota for women in the TPiE.
A historical analysis on female’s representation in the Kashag is imperative to emphasize the under-representation of females in the Kashag (Executive). According to information available on the Tibet.net website, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) had 76 Kalons (Cabinet Ministers), including Kalon Tripas, in the past and eight Cabinet Ministers (including Sikyong) are the incumbents.
Of the total 84 Kalons, only 9 Kalons or 11% of them were/are female Kalons; two of them are the incumbents in the present Kashag. Further analysis shows that only 6 female individuals or 7% were ever appointed as Kalons, as Kasur Jetsun Pema la and Kasur Rinchen Khando Choegyal la had served as Kalons for three terms and two terms respectively. The appointment of female Kalons began only in the mid 1990’s, during the 8th Kashag term. The female representation in the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile does not fare well either, nor in the Central Tibetan Administration bureaucratic circle in Dharamsala. Apparently, not a single female Secretary is currently heading the departments of Central Tibetan Administration.
Since the direct election of Kalon Tripa in 2001, we have witnessed the leadership style of Trisur Samdhong Rinpoche, an ardent follower of a Gandhian philosophy. In the last four years or so, we have seen a Harvard graduate, Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s leadership style and his policies. Has the turn now come for a female Sikyong to bring forth new set of leadership style and policies to resolve Tibet issue? Are we ready and prepared for a paradigm shift in power to a female Sikyong? Around the world, whether it is in the business or politics, women are increasingly taking on important leadership roles. In the context of our present exile status, it would be interesting to see a female Sikyong and the type of responses from the international political leaders, especially the Chinese leaders. Negotiation process with the Chinese leadership is at its lowest level now; the situation inside Tibet is deteriorating at an alarming rate with desperate Tibetans continuing to take their own precious lives. In light of that, will ‘Her Excellency’ be able to thaw the strained relationship between Dharamsala and CCP?
The Tibetan community in exile has quite a few viable and eligible woman leaders who could make excellent Sikyong. Two individuals come to mind, both dynamic and well-experienced: the incumbent female Kalons for Home and Information & International Relations – Kalon Dolma Gyari and Kalon Dekyi Chhoyang. Both currently hold important portfolios and, more importantly, they are fully committed to our Just Cause. Kalon Dolma Gyari has been actively contributing to the Tibetan struggle in various capacities for the past 30 plus years; served as Deputy Speaker of the Doetsok (parliament) three times. She is well-educated and has a proven track record of possessing excellent relationship building skills, particularly among Indian politicians. Kalon Dekyi Chhoyang is also highly educated, fluent in 4 languages (Tibetan, French, English and Chinese) and has been actively associated with the Tibetan community in the West from a very young age. She has been in Tibet for her research work in the Amdo region. Her track record as Kalon for Information & International Relations is impressive and has made good stride in garnering international support on the issue of Tibet in the last four years. So, I am confident that either of the two can be a foreseeable leader for Resolving Tibet Issue with their vast experiences.
Talking of a maturity in the Tibetan democratic process, a transition of power to a female Sikyong in 2016 would mark a milestone in Tibet’s history. The existing five Sikyong candidates could continue running after their vote, should either one declare their candidature for the Sikyong during 2016 election. It is still not too late for them to declare their candidature or any associations to propose their names for the 2016 Sikyong election – it will certainly bring about an election coup in the 2016 general election! We should support them, if they become Sikyong candidates - not on the basis of their gender, but on their merits and for the potential change of leadership style. A female Sikyong could be an excellent role model for aspiring Tibetan women to become Kalons and Chithues in future. Women empowerment can only be possible if we encourage and support them for taking active participation in Tibetan politics in exile.