Election 2011‎ > ‎

Are We Electing the Right Man?

posted Feb 10, 2011, 11:17 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Feb 11, 2011, 7:33 AM ]
Editors' Note: Reminder: The publication of any article does
not necessarily entail agreement by the TPR editors

By Phuntsok Tsering Duechung

(Original in Tibetan and German.  Previously published in Tibetan in Khabdha.)

To judge by the results of the primary elections, Lobsang Sangay has a strong lead and one can assume he will win. Since in all likelihood he will be the next Kalon Tripa, it is surely permissible to examine him a bit and to reflect critically on his electoral success and his views. After all, debate and discussion are the life-breath of a healthy democracy. In my assessment, his electoral success is based on three factors:

1. His academic credentials (a Harvard S.J.D.)

2. His campaign tactics

3. His positioning himself as Tibet’s Obama – and China’s

Let us take a closer look at the individual points and critically examine his statements.


Hardly any politician in the world has made such a big issue of his academic credentials during his campaign as Lobsang Sangay-la. He stresses that he is not only the first Tibetan among 6 million Tibetans to graduate from Harvard with a Ph.D., but the first in the entire Himalayan region (in fact he has an S.J.D., not a Ph.D.). It seems that establishing this and confirming it through research was very important to him. He peddled this in the Tibetan settlements and the desired success resulted. In the West anyone would say: So what? But simple, rural people who are not so familiar with Western ways, stiffen up and shudder with reverence. And to make sure that even the most thick-skulled understands what the letters “Ph.D.” mean, he also obligingly provides a Tibetan translation - free of charge. It is comparable to the Tibetan “Geshe Lharampa” degree, he states – not just once but many a time, most recently in an interview in RFA on Dec. 3, 2010 (Tamleng shalpar). One of his greatest concerns, it seems, is that his fellow countrymen do not sufficiently appreciate his magnificent degree.

Merely presenting oneself in this manner is not a great intellectual or psychological achievement. It is, to put it mildly, just plain embarrassing and to top it off, before an international audience (greetings from Sarah Palin). Everywhere in the world campaigns are fought out by means of political contents and we must therefore address superficialities such as these. To be sure, it is perfectly legitimate for Lobsang-la to feel satisfaction about his Harvard degree, but he should kindly keep it to himself the way we all do when we have pursued careers in one area or another.

Because he has made such a big deal out of his Harvard education and S.J.D., it is surely interesting to take a closer look at the facts of the case. How did he manage to be accepted at Harvard and what was his doctoral thesis topic?

Renowned universities exist all over the earth, especially in Western countries, that produced great thinkers and scientists who fundamentally revolutionised the world and human beings’ concept of it, among them Galileo Galilei, Nicolas Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Immanuel Kant, Charles Darwin, Nagarjuna, Albert Einstein, and others. European universities led the way in this respect. Today, Harvard unquestionably ranks among the most recognised and respected universities. But it is of fundamental importance to be aware that not all Ph.D.s are created equal. In Europe, for instance, there are areas of study in which one can get a doctorate without all that much effort, and then there are areas of study, such as the natural sciences, in which getting a doctorate is extremely demanding and time-consuming.

So how did Lobsang Sangay-la get admitted to Harvard?

 He got his B.A. in New Delhi. In the States, he simply had the good fortune of getting a Fulbright Scholarship because he was a Tibetan, and fought his way to admission without having any special personal accomplishments to show. Allegedly he was not even among the top 9 on the waiting list. That improper influence might have been brought into play cannot be determined. He wrote his doctoral thesis on “Democracy and History of the Tibetan Exile Government from 1959-2004.” Honestly, couldn’t any one of us have written a work like this if we had had the opportunity to do so? Those who have read the work say it is mediocre both in terms of content and style. So I’d suggest we not get carried away!

Thank God we Tibetans can not only boast of numerous academics with doctoral degrees, but also of any number of professors in many areas. I shall mention a few names here: Prof. Samdong Rinpoche (India), Prof. Dawa Norbu (Univ. of Delhi), Prof. Tsering, Shakya (British Columbia), Prof. Pema Gyalpo (Univ. of Yokohama) ; Prof. Ngawang Phuntsog (Univ. of California) , Prof. Pasang Yonten Arya (Italy) , Prof. Namkai Norbu (Italy), Prof. Tinley Dhondup   and , and , and. I have deliberately omitted the many Tibetan professors in Tibet and China in this connection. But not to digress from the topic of Harvard, Dr. Tashi Rabgye got her Ph.D. at Harvard!! Unlike Lobsang Sangey-la, she was a Rhodes Scholar from Canada who fought her way to admission by means of her own outstanding achievements. Furthermore, a great number of Tibetan students in the West deserve mention who have graduated and are graduating with top distinctions in extremely demanding scientific areas.

Has anything like Lobsang Sangay’s actions been observed coming from them? According to Lobsang Sangay’s logic, at least the professors would have every reason to. For me it is a pleasure and a satisfaction to note that these fellow countrymen and women prefer to work in silence, a few of them for decades for the Tibetan exile community and for their homeland, without boasting noisily about their achievements. Modesty is not only a virtue all over the world, but it also indicates a person’s intellectual maturity. I find it astonishing that he shows little typically Tibetan modesty, although he flirts over and over again with letting people know that he grew up among Tibetans in India with “Dali and Timomo.”


We hear from people who know LS-la personally that he began preparing himself for the office of Kalon Tripa as early as 2005. This indicates enormous ambition and determination. One notices that he is well-prepared and has adequate financial resources at his disposal. Scarcely any other candidate apart from Lobsang Sangay-la was in a position to systematically canvass the numerous Tibetan settlements and promote himself, whether in India, Europe, Nepal, Canada or America. One has to give him credit for this. The other candidates are now at a disadvantage. Did they neglect this, think irrelevant, or are there other reasons? Many believe that the other candidates from India were unable to carry out an intensive campaign with personal presence like LS primarily for financial reasons, and the candidates living in the West for reasons of time. The flights alone would have cost tens of thousands of dollars! Since the majority of Tibetans in India has no Internet access, personal presence was of extraordinary significance for the results of the election. This way, everybody in the settlements basically saw only LS’s face and heard only his voice. Thus, the primary election winner was not necessarily the best man, but instead the candidate with the greatest financial and time-based resources.

Since the money was the deciding factor in the primary election, it is eminently important to establish transparency about the funds’ sources and provenance. Such transparency is absolutely necessary if countries like China are to be prevented from sticking their dirty fingers in our election campaigns and thereby ultimately manipulatively intervening in the composition of our government and parliament. Furthermore, the legislative branch should consider whether a financial rule is called for here, so that in the future, all candidates have equal chances and starting conditions and thus excluding the possibility of manipulation and corruption from the beginning.

LS and his crew have set up posters derived from Obama’s campaign, showing LS in a profile and colour composition similar to Obama, with the same caption: “CHANGE.” Obama had in fact intended a change of political course and commenced with it in accordance with his first official act as president. Think, for instance, of his conciliatory words to the Islamic world. Anyone would thus understand LS’s poster statement as a political reorientation. In hindsight, though, the suspicion arises that he only seeks to suggest such a change of course to garner votes.

His target group here has always been Tibetan youth, who desire a change of course in politics. He maintained a very low profile in the initial discussions and interviews by means of empty, but portentious-sounding statements such as: “We should align our policies in and make our decisions in accordance with current conditions in the world,” without committing himself either to “Lam Uma” or to “Rangzen.” He left escape hatches open for both positions. That facts and external circumstances determine the day-to-day course of politics is a truism and thus any and every politician’s daily bread. But we seek a Kalon Tripa who does not just continually passively gather up the shards of world politics, but actively intervenes and participates in politics and actively shapes the future of the Tibetan people. And this is only possible if he has his own political convictions and vision.

A couple of stale jokes and recitations of some memorised data are not enough to make a good politician. A cheap pocket calculator made in China can do as much. We need a Kalon Tripa who, by virtue of his experience, acts and thinks in a measured and prudent fashion, and who is above all ethically and morally upright. As for LS-la’s credibility, I will refer only to a so-called “public RECTIFICATION” of January 8, 2011 by the Tibetan Association of Boston (where LS lives), which was published at Tibetan Political Review and which concludes with a most telling adage: “A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future”.

But the closer we come to the decision, the clearer it becomes that the political change of course he has hinted at is not going to come. He has made fools of us, the younger generation of Tibetans. After he won the primary, it is becoming clear that with him no change will come about either in domestic, i.e. in educational policy, or in foreign affairs. He increasingly hides behind the parliament, which determines the political direction under His Holiness’ guidance. To be sure, resolutions are adopted in the parliament and the political course is set there, but nevertheless, the Kalon Tripa has the opportunity to set accents, as Prof. Samdong Rinpoche has done. The current educational policy unmistakeably shows his influence.  LS’s sole interest is to capture our votes, which he in fact got in the primary election. But that is not the end of the matter, as the main election has not taken place yet.

This campaign reveals the downside of a democracy. If our young democracy doesn’t take care, it will easily fall prey to demagogues and deceivers. I cannot get rid of the feeling that LS-la always says just what the other person wants to hear. When dealing with young people, he played or plays the CHANGE card. With monks the Khampa card, with the faithful the Dalai Lama card, and with illiterates the Harvard card. He tries to impress literary figures with articles in Tibetan that he hasn’t even written himself. This is clearly going too far. It is fraud, plain and simple. It is stupid, too, because almost everybody knows that his Tibetan is inadequate. This is no disgrace, but especially as Kalon Tripa, he will be hard put to argue convincingly that China is repressing Tibetan culture and language, while everything is thriving and blooming in the freedom of exile, if he himself isn’t even able to write an essay in acceptable Tibetan.

Above all, I also find intentionally fuelling regionalism for electoral purposes highly problematic and irresponsible. This is where I definitely draw the line! We have almost eliminated this truly stupid regionalism through painstaking work, at the latest in 2008, when many of our countrymen in Tibet, from U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo fought as ONE Tibetan people and many paid with their lives for our common goal of unity and freedom. In view of the critical situation in which we find ourselves – many are already speaking of the death agony of the Tibetan people – regionalism is not only stupid, not to say idiotic, it also plays right into the hands of the Chinese. Every Kalon Tripa and Chitue candidate should therefore know that life goes on after the election, in which we shall have to live again in that unity and harmony that a few of you have so wantonly and irresponsibly exploited for your own advantage during the election.

And it is furthermore in the public interest to determine whether the votes of the monks in the monasteries were misused to this purpose: whether secret agreements between the candidates and the abbots took place. One hears all sorts of things. What made me wonder was a statement by Prof. Samdong, who officially admonished the monks in the monasteries not to get drawn into the filthy swamp of the electoral campaign and to be mindful of their monastic vows. Up to that point he had not intervened in the campaign. But he must have had some very serious reason for making this statement when he did so. One also hears about manipulation and prior agreements during the debates. The organisers and also the Tibetan-language media must maintain absolute neutrality here and treat no candidate preferentially. The fact that many Tibetans are actively involved in the election is certainly a very positive sign, but at the same time I also see signs of corruption appearing on the horizon.

It recently became known that LS travelled to Beijing in 2005, among other things to meet with low-ranking Chinese politicians. I would have liked to hear from him at whose behest he did so and in what function. Other countrymen who did this in the past were rightly pilloried. I would also really like to know how he, as a holder of IC, was able to obtain a visa for China. As far as I know, this IC is not accepted by China. Countrymen who have applied for a visa for Tibet - i.e. for China - had to fill out and sign an extra document in which they were designated as Chinese expatriates. How does your visa read, Lobsang Sangay-la?


LS likes to envision himself in the ranks of great historical figures, such as Obama, Alexander the Great and King Songtsen Gampo. When asked once whether his lack of political and administrative experience might be a handicap for the office of Kalon Tripa, he responded that the above-mentioned major figures of history also achieved great things without prior experience. To be sure, human history has always had extraordinarily exceptional personalities like Alexander the Great who achieved unimaginable accomplishments. But they are, after all, the exceptions! We normal mortals absolutely must have a certain level of background experience to be in a position to fulfil the tasks we have been entrusted with. Or does LS already imagine himself to be one of the major figures of history? By the way, Alexander the Great suffered from megalomania towards the end of his life and compelled his people to revere him as a god.

We chuckled a bit at the Obama comparison, but when I heard that LS also intends to become China’s Obama, I really didn’t feel like laughing any more. With all due respect for his aspiration, the comparison falters massively, is illogical and dangerous. He commits a fundamental intellectual fallacy here. African Americans are Americans who are struggling for justice and civil rights, whereas our struggle is one for national liberation, and thus a completely different situation. One should not confuse one thing with another, something any child knows. Even if this statement was intended as a joke – where, if you please, is the point that is supposed to make us laugh? – one already senses the dubious personality behind this supposed joke. Our goal is not to set up a Chinese Obama, but to demand our just right to self-determination. We are looking for a down-to-earth Kalon Tripa and no Obama of any kind.


When Lobsang Sangay la was asked about the issue of the 15th Dalai Lama, he proposed that His Holiness appoint a boy from among the Indian exile community, about 14-20 years old, if possible from the disputed area of Arunachal Pradesh (Mön Tawang) as his reincarnation, along the lines of a “Maday tulku,” in order to pre-empt the Chinese’ intention of setting up their own candidate. WOW! Isn’t that cunning! (I hope he won’t take it ill, but I was so glad LS isn’t 20 years old!)

It’s my personal opinion that he demonstrates no sensitivity or depth of understanding in this thorny issue, either. Chinese functionaries have always failed in tolerance and respect for Tibetans’ religious feelings. They have appointed their own Panchen Lama and they will do the same with the 15th Dalai Lama, against the will of the Tibetan people. They not only seek to reduce the belief in reincarnation and the institution of the Dalai Lamas to a profane, secular-oriented instrument of power politics, but also distort our faith in the eyes of the world to the point of ridiculousness. This arrogant posturing with regard to our faith and culture is very regrettable, but somehow understandable in terms of their logic. To them, religion is superstition and the opium of the people.

The issue then becomes dangerous for us Tibetans when we, too, start manoeuvring the way the Chinese do, prioritising politics and completely disregarding spiritual and philosophical dimensions. What becomes of the bodhisattva vows to abide on the earthly plane as long as space and time exist, in order to serve, aid and comfort all sentient beings - and not to kick them when they are down? What becomes of universal love and Great Compassion for all that exists, a fundamental part of our faith? The issue is far more complex and possesses a far greater philosophical depth than some seem to think. It is by no means a Nintendo game! Would we not be discredited and become the butt of jokes for the whole world if we try to outdo even the Chinese in political sophistry?

Today, His Holiness is revered by millions of people from all parts of the earth, as hardly anyone else. Many people from all walks of life listen to his teachings and seek his advice and comfort. Leading scientists are eager to have him as a discussion partner because they gain from these encounters. He is regarded by many as one of the wisest people of our century. He is therefore the last person to have need of our input. He and he alone knows best how his succession should take shape, because only he knows the complex facets and profound interconnections involved. In doing so, he will surely also include the many faithful from the Himalayan and Mongolian regions and from the West, who revere him just as much as we do, in his prayers and in his vision. He is now not only Tibet’s Dalai Lama, he is a global proponent of peace, an ethical and moral authority! We should bear this in mind and consider ourselves fortunate because of it. We must take ALL of these aspects into account!


This is the darkest period in Tibet’s history. To quote Shakespeare, here the question is in the truest sense one of “to be, or not to be.” China’s ambition to become a world power, His Holiness’ increasing age, the unstoppable invasion of millions of Chinese settlers in Tibet, the marginalisation of Tibetan identity in any and all forms, lead those with knowledge of the situation to draw grim conclusions about Tibet’s future. Some even reckon that Tibet’s fate will be sealed in the next 30 years.

It must be pointed out in any case that the time factor is of acute, existential significance for us. For this very reason, it is irresponsible and ultimately suicidal to heave someone with zero political experience up into the position of Kalon Tripa and entrust him with the future of Tibet. In view of the gloomy scenarios outlined by some, not only the 5-year term of a Kalon Tripa counts, but every month, every day.

I personally am opposed to Lobsang Sangay’s candidacy because I fail to identify any political concept or programme of his and because his statements in part are very unclear or contradictory.  For instance, that on the one hand he “wants to see the Tibetan national flag raised on the Potala,” and on the other intends to become “China’s Obama,” is a glaring contradiction right there.

At an event in Delhi with Tibetan students on January 18, 2011, he responded to a question from the audience that he continues to have unshakeable faith in “Rangzen,” but that because of external circumstances, he as possible future Kalon Tripa will have to follow the “Umay Lam.” This statement is not only new and totally confusing to me, but surely to the Chinese leadership as well, as they until now have categorically rejected the “Umay Lam” on the grounds that it adds up to nothing but “Rangzen” in sheeps’ clothing. Would not a Kalon Tripa with the name “LS” – who allegedly has unshakeable faith in “Rangzen” – be their best pretext for maintaining this position?

All these ill-conceived statements of his demonstrate his lack of both political experience as well as the wisdom that maturity brings. On the contrary, I view his narcissistic personality with a penchant for overestimating himself as being even dangerous.

In short, I am firmly convinced that someone lacking in political experience does not belong on the chair of the Kalon Tripa, to accumulate there the necessary experience  in a couple of years, as some naive fellow countrymen have proposed. Our situation is critical, every minute counts!!

My dear fellow countrymen, you can see that, after analysing the facts, I am no fan of LS, and not because I have any personal animosity towards him. I don’t even know him personally. I have never seen him or any other of the other candidates on the list in my life, let alone spoken with them. My information comes from the candidates’ appearances in the media, and what I have heard and seen is more than enough for me.

If titles were a guarantee for good politics, above all in Western countries government offices would be swarming with professors, because after all there are hundreds of thousands of them in the West.
But this is not the case! To be sure, an academic degree never does any harm, but we need a Kalon Tripa with experience, someone with cognitive intelligence and above all psychological maturity far more. What we don’t need is someone whose self-overestimation knows no bounds and whose perception is diametrically opposed to reality.

Apart from all that, a possible victory by Lobsang Sangay will have a far-reaching negative effect on all our countrymen who have sacrificed themselves for our common cause for decades, whether in the exile government or in NGOs, if careerists gain such a degree of validation and resonance among the majority of the people. The perilous message for our people might be: “Dedication is worth less than a couple of clever phrases!”

I therefore conclude: anyone - anyone at all, but not LS, because I regard him as immature and thus a danger.