Articles‎ > ‎

Feedback to TPR Editorial on the Dalai Lama & Impacts of Devolution of Power

posted Apr 12, 2011, 7:51 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

By Tsewang Norbu
Thank you all on the Editorial Board of the TPR for this thought provoking article.  I have put down some of my thoughts in writing on this very important matter.  I have taken the liberty of taking large chunks from your editorial without even acknowledging so as I find complete agreement with your line of argumentation.

The devolution of political power of H.H. the Dalai Lama will have deep impact, as you rightly pointed out, on the legal aspect of Tibetan struggle and of course on the constitutional structure of the democratic governance of Tibetan diaspora.  The Dalai Lama has sounded such dramatic changes time and again but the Tibetan leadership and especially the members of the Parliament of Tibet in Exile have, unfortunately, failed to make timely amendments in the Charter.  Now, they want to push through such drastic constitutional changes within weeks.

According to the Exile Charter the Dalai Lama is both head of the state and government.  He still has full policy-making authority, although the stature of the Kalon Tripa has been dramatically raised in 2001 with the direct electoral process.  However, the formal executive power of the Kalon Tripa has remained almost unchanged.

The Second General Meeting of Tibetans in May has to find a trend to the solution entailing from Dalai Lama´s devolution of power in keeping in mind two aspects (a) enhancing the democratic governance and (b) the claim of legitimacy of the Government of Tibet in Exile and Tibetan struggle.

While I belong to those few Tibetans who welcome the Dalai Lama´s devolution of political power to a democratically elected leadership, I completely agree with your editorial and to Jamyang Norbu-La (his article in Phayul) that it will have direct implications on the claim of the Government of Tibet in Exile as the legitimate representative of Tibet and the people of Tibet, and in turn on the ongoing freedom struggle, on Sino-Tibetan dialogue and apprehensively on the status of office of Tibet around the world.  The Government of Tibet in Exile lacking international recognition, as you put again rightly, has skillfully used “this ambiguity to get around certain international hurdles in carrying out it´s diplomacy”.

Tibetans under Chinese occupation continue to look to the exile government headed by the Dalai Lama as the legitimate government of Tibet.  Would they still continue to look to the exile government without the Dalai Lama as their legitimate government?  This is a central point touching the nerve of the freedom struggle of the people of Tibet.

As long as the Issue of Tibet is not resolved, we would need the Dalai Lama as head of the state and it will be the duty of the Legislative to find a constitutional framework to accommodate such requirements. I have always thought that Westminster model might be the nearest constitutional framework to accommodate our current requirements with Dalai Lama as head of the state.  Instead of calling “Constitutional Ganden Phodrang”, I would prefer to call “Constitutional Theocracy” as I have been propagating for last decade in which the Dalai Lama or the regent would remain head of the state with only limited ceremonial responsibilities like the British monarch and Kalon Tripa or better Silon as head of the government with more policy-making authority putting him on par with Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.  The Dalai Lama would symbolically represent Tibet and the Tibetans, and all official acts and legislation would be done in his name.  ”Dalai Lama’s Government” will look after the political affairs while he serves as a unifying national figure who is above political disputes and universal head of all Tibetan Buddhists.  According to my reading, such solution may be in tune with the Dalai Lama´s wish to devolve political power.

On the TSG-List Wangchuk Tsering-La has raised his concerns on such solutions “I have heard some Tibetans say His Holiness the Dalai Lama should become a Constitutional Head of state like the Queen of England, or Emperor of Japan both of whom became what they are today after they were compelled to abdicate their power because of political turmoil or public opposition to their centuries old rule of force or suppression.  But His Holiness the Dalai Lama`s decision to hand over the political power to an elected Kalon Tripa is nothing of this sort and would seem unique and unprecedented to those who are not familiar with history of Tibet”.  I agree with Wangchuk-La on this point and I am quite sure that most of the Tibetans will be in complete agreement but we have to find some kind of viable solutions with no thought ban and we should be open to all alternatives.  Da läpa trug ren zhag.  As the Tibetan proverb goes it is time to churn our brain to give some trend to the participants on their way to the 2nd General Meeting next month.  It is high time to accept the Dalai Lama´s wish to devolve political power in order to protect his personal integrity and his credibility of democratization and also of course to pave the path for smooth transition of power during his life time.

As you put in your editorial this nomenclature has been useful in situations where the Government of Tibet in Exile has used this ambiguity between the Dalai Lama and the Government of Tibet in Exile in certain delicate diplomatic moves.  Once the Dalai Lama is no more head of the state, this important and effective instrument will be lost.

I personally believe that we do not have to invent completely a new system of democratic governance of Tibetan coinage to implement the wishes of Dalai Lama to devolve his political power to an elected leadership.  We simply have to adjust the existing framework of constitutional monarchy to suit our needs.  Once the Issue of Tibet is resolved, we can take the next great leap forward and introduce parliamentary or chancellor democracy like that of India or Germany.

I completely agree with you that the “new form of the Tibetan government is a monumental decision that deserves careful thought, adequate research, full transparency, and public consultation and participation". 

Unfortunately, our parliament has been sending contradicting signals even very recently.  Phayul reports on March 18 "Tibetan Parliament passes resolution urging the Dalai Lama not to retire" with only the "North America MP Tenzin Chonden” opposing the motion.  Then just 7 days later a unanimous motion is passed which Phayul titles on March 25 as "Dalai Lama prompts Tibetan parliament to accept his retirement".

Although the unanimous motion of the Parliament of Tibet in Exile to accept the decision of the Dalai Lama to devolve his political power to the elected leadership is to be welcomed, I am nevertheless deeply upset to see how the members of the parliament managed to make a 180 degree turn within so short span of time. This is no proof political maturity of our elected representatives and their internalization of democratic principles.  The "honorary" members of our parliament with lone exception of Tenzin Chonden seem to be behaving in the same way as the members of the much ridiculed and rubber stamp National People Congress of China.

The Parliament has formed a Charter Redrafting Committee and is required to report back by April 11 with an ambitious and unrealistic time frame of amending the Charter before the current Parliament’s term ends in May.  Would such haste go well in the end?

It is to be feared that the Committee has not enough time to thoroughly examine all the social, legal, and political implications and to consult external experts on constitutional law as well as provide an opportunity for public comment.  The Second General Meeting in May has an important role to play and I hope that this will be more fruitful than the first one in 2008 in South India.  Individual Tibetans and organizations should use time to make their views heard and read and it is in this sense that I welcome the initiative of the Editorial Board of the TPR.

Tsewang Norbu (is among the first batch of Tibetan children finishing Higher Secondary Examination from CST Mussoorie in March-April 1969. He did his B.A. Hons (English) from St. Stephens College, Delhi in April 1972. Since 1973 he lives in Germany. He can be contacted by e-mail: