DHARAMSALA, Oct 22: A delagation from three network based organizations, Asia Democracy Network (ADN), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) on Oct 20 addressed a press conference in Dharamsala to present preliminary findings of their report on the preliminary elections for the Sikyong (‘Tibetan political leader’) and members of the 16th Tibetan Parliament held on Oct 18, 2015.
The two main objectives of the delegation are to increase the profile of the exile Tibetan elections among the international community and analyze the current state of the Tibetan elections and provide findings on observed strengths and weaknesses.
The members of the delegation, Mr Pradip Ghimire, coordinator of National Election Monitoring Alliance (NEMA), Nepal; Mr Tur-Od Lkhagvajav, president of Transparency International, Mongolia; Mr Ryan D. Whelan, campaign & advocacy coordinator (ANFREL); and Ms Kanchan Khatri, Program Officer (NEMA), Nepal met with exile Tibetan leadership, officials of the Central Tibetan Administration, civil society groups, media and the general public. The delegation also visited polling booths in Dharamsala, Kullu-Manali and Bir Tibetan Society.
Presenting their findings, the delegates lauded the uniqueness of the Tibetan electoral process and called it ‘building of a borderless democracy’.
“The democratic example set on the 18th of October by Tibetans in Exile is a powerful one,” the delegates said in a statement released on the day and added, “The Tibetan diaspora’s building of a borderless democracy is an inspiring parallel to the Tibetan community’s broader struggle for freedom and justice.”
However, the members of the delegation also highlighted certain areas where the Tibetan electoral system can be strengthened and provided their recommendations.
“By taking necessary steps to strengthen their electoral process, Tibetans in Exile will deliver a more just system for their people and further strengthen the moral example they display to the world,” the delegates said.
The delegates observed that due to the open nature of the Preliminary Round, the corresponding lack of names on the ballot, the requirement to fill four different pieces of information for each candidate, and the large number of MP candidates to select, voters were faced with a uniquely challenging and time consuming task to fill their ballots. They hoped that a system could be developed before the next preliminary elections to simplify the process for the voters and speed up the voting process.
“While such group behavior is understandable and appeared to be welcomed by all involved, it is hoped that a system could be developed before the next preliminary elections that would simplify the process for voters, ensure the secrecy of the ballot, and speed up the voting process while allowing all voters to fully exercise their voting rights,” the delegates noted.
Referring to the use of Green Book as a criteria to decide if a person can exercise their right to vote, the team noted that ‘voting is a foundational right and should be uncoupled from the requirement for a person to have paid their voluntary contribution to the Central Tibetan Administration’.
“The team also believes that voting rights should be uncoupled from the requirement for a person to have paid their voluntary contribution to the CTA. While we appreciate the necessity of raising revenue, voting is a foundational right that should not be linked to a person’s having paid their contributions. Hopefully, other incentives can be found to encourage the paying of the voluntary payment so that voters not making their payment are not discouraged from participating in the democratic process,” the delegates stated.
The delegates appreciated the efforts of the Election Commission (EC) of the Central Tibetan Administration and stated that the EC’s efforts are worthy of imitation by Election Commissions in other countries.
“We also greatly appreciate the efforts of the Election Commission (EC) of the Central Tibetan Administration working in a difficult environment to manage the preliminary round of the election. Given the stateless Diaspora’s spread across the globe, the inclusive nature of the Election Commission’s organizing voting for communities of Tibetans in smaller qualifying numbers than before is admirable and worthy of imitation by much larger and more established Election Commissions in other countries,” they stated.
The delegates also provided critical analysis of the Tibetan Election Commission’s rule and regulations and made recommendations to ensure fairness and credibility of the Election Commission.
“The exemption of certain recognized groups from these spending limits damaged the credibility of the campaign finance rules and unnecessarily tilted the campaign playing field towards those candidates with backing from the outside recognized groups. To strengthen the fairness of the campaign finance rules and avoid accusations of partisanship, the Election Commission should either remove the exemption for certain groups or allow all independent, outside groups to campaign,” the group stated.
Asked for their opinion on members of the clergy having the right to vote twice compared to lay Tibetans, Mr Ryan D. Whelan said: “We see examples in countries around the region where the role of the clergy is different than that of a normal voter. In many of the countries, the clergy cannot vote at all, they are kept out of politics. That’s true for Myanmar, Thailand and few other places. But in Sri Lanka, there is a political party run by monks. It’s a clergy political party. So you see a lot of variation. In general we allow for these local circumstances that are unique. We think democracy is over a long enough time period move to equal representation. The principle of one man one vote is kind of the starting point for lot of our discussion but we certainly allow for local variants depending on whether the people of that area are okay with that. Its something that they have thought it out and for their situation, it works best.”
The delegates said they will release a brief report with additional findings and recommendations as they continue to follow the important Post-Election Period.
“To support the cause of Tibetan Electoral Democracy, our team will be releasing a brief report with additional findings and recommendations as we continue to follow the important Post-Election Period. During this vital time, it is important to see a transparent and fair counting and consolidation of Election results followed by, if necessary, timely, professional, and impartial Electoral Dispute Resolution,” the delegates stated.
The delegation’s visit and their mission were facilitated by Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy & the International Campaign for Tibet.