Saturday, 12 March 2011
Carly Selby-James, The Tibet Post International
Dharamshala: A press Conference held on 10th March by Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, after the commemoration of 52nd Tibetan National Uprising Day at the main Tibetan temple in Dharamsala, India.
Today we are recalling the 1959 uprising, the peaceful uprising in Tibet and this is the 52nd anniversary of the '59 uprising. And the Kashag statement, His Holiness' statement, all these I believe are in writing, and I hope each one has got a copy of His Holiness' statement, and apart from those written statements I do not have any particular thing to mention to you, so it is for you to ask questions. Thank you.
What's your reaction to His Holiness' statement; that he wants to hand over power; more of his temporal authority?
Our reaction is already mentioned in the Kashag statement. We do understand what His Holiness is planning, and if he is asking the people to be independent of the Dalai Lamas, and which he was trying to make Tibetan people independent of Dalai Lamas, since the 1960s he's trying to educate and make the people able to manage themselves. And now I think this is a political time, since the political leadership is also beginning to elect democratic leaders by the people in the Diaspora, directly, to Kalon Tripa. So, therefore, he's trying to transfer the entire traditional functions and powers of the Dalai Lama to the elected political leadership. But to lead the people, whilst the majority of the Tibetan people inside and outside still do not feel competent to take over and to become independent of Dalai Lama, that is very difficult to think. So we are still asking His Holiness to postpone it, and the ceremonial functions may be reduced, but as guidance, or as the spiritual leader of the temporal and religion both, for the entire Tibetan people. The people still continue to request.
If His Holiness says that he can give up his responsibility, and he still keeps supporting the ‘Middle-Way' Approach, how does the dialogue with China proceed? Because China does not recognise the Government-in-Exile.
This is one of the basic questions all the people are asking: if His Holiness does not shoulder any responsibility of a political nature, then there's no question of dialogue with the PRC. The PRC is only engaged with His Holiness as an individual. So, in the event of transferring all political traditional authority to the elected leadership, then we shall have to find a way to continue the dialogue process. And for that matter, as we mentioned in the Kashag statement of today, that the legislative body shall have to find a very innovative and constructive way to handle the situation carefully. I do not have any ready-made solution for this.
Would you please explain the kind of power His Holiness now holds under the Tibetan Charter?
In accordance with the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, His Holiness is head of the nation, and also head of the administration, the executive. And whatever executive decisions are taken, whatever executive actions are implemented, all of these are done in the name of His Holiness, and for the legislative part, whatever legislation is adopted by the people's deputies, finally His Holiness has to give his consent to those legislations, and he also takes charge of all the elected leadership including the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and the Justice Commissioners, and also the Kalons and Kalon Tripas. Therefore he has responsibility of giving a sign to the legislations, rules and evaluations, whatever is adopted by the legislative assembly, and also he has to approve the executive side, whatever decisions and policies are adopted by the executive side; that also needs his formal approval. So these are the provisions in the charter; his functions and responsibilities.
You said that the Kashag has requested His Holiness not to retire from his political duties, how has His Holiness responded?
His response is very clear in his statement. He says he has received many requests but he will not be able to accept those requests, and he hopes that the people will understand the importance of this decision. So until now, he has not accepted any of the requests, including the Kashag's request.
As for the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, what exactly does he envisage, if he's giving up these political responsibilities, will he continue to remain the supreme spiritual leader of the Tibetans or is he planning to abdicate that role as well?
As far as the spiritual leadership is concerned, this is not by appointment, nor by election, his spiritual duty to serve is evident and there's no change of course, as far as his supreme spiritual leadership is concerned. And his supreme spiritual leadership is not only for the Tibetan people, it encompasses all the boundaries and there are many Tibetan Buddhist followers in the Himalayan regions, and in Mongolia, in China, in many other Southeast Asian countries and also in Russia, so all the followers of the Tibetan Buddhist people, Tibetan Buddhism, they consider His Holiness as the supreme head of their spirituality. So that will never be changeable, what His Holiness is envisaging is that political leadership should not be a permanent one, nor it should be confined to one individual. So that is his main argument: that there must be a changeable political leader, which is popularly elected by the people, and which can be also abruptly changed by the people, so there should not be any leadership which is by a kind of hereditary, or tradition, which is not able to change easily. So he is leading into the modern democratic system, so in that modern democratic system, the people is supreme, and the people should have the ability, whenever they want to change the leadership they can change, when they want to elect a leadership they would elect. So this facility should be available to the people.
So does that mean that he would no longer be the head of state, or would he still have a symbolic role as the head of state?
No, no. He says he will not hold anything; not hold any authority. He will not be head of state, he will not be head of the executive, he is wanting to transfer both of these responsibilities.
I cannot make any prophecy for the future Kalon Tripa, nor would I like to make any statement which would influence the thinking process of the new Kalon Tripa. The people have the authority to choose their own leadership, and their chosen leader should be free to think, free to decide what kind of policy they should adopt, so it is not for me to say anything. But generally, the Tibetan people, inside and outside, are very much committed to non-violence. And I do not think that this commitment will ever be changed.
What about the younger people?
Younger people are more non-violent than the older people (audience laughter). This is only the media; they think the younger people are more aggressive. A few younger people (...) they do not represent the youth of the Tibetan people. They are exceptions. Even then, those people you may consider as aggressive, they are not violent. They are especially bitter and aggressive but they cannot be considered as violent. They also believe in non-violence.
It appears to me that it may not be passed; it is most likely it may not be passed, but there would be a deadlock, if His Holiness is not accepting the people's request not to devolve his responsibilities, and then the legislative body could not find a suitable way out, then there would be a deadlock, constitutional deadlock. That is why we are urging the legislative assembly to find a very wise way, so that the people's expression could also be upheld and His Holiness' decision also; I don't know how to phrase it, to accommodate His Holiness and the public wish both, so we shall have to think in a very innovative way.
So apart from the new prime minister, for all the other positions His Holiness is talking about giving up, will there be another person appointed then?
That I cannot pre-empt, so a wise formulation and some new kinds of things shall have to be considered and come out from the legislative body, and, at this moment I have no suggestion.
Definitely, that is the biggest issue. The Exile body, we do not call it Exile Government, officially, but the body which is respected by all the 6 million people of Tibet, inside and outside, as their legitimate representative. And that faith and that emotional binding is only due to His Holiness' leadership. When he goes away from this function, then the organisation in exile will not have any legitimacy in the eyes of the Tibetan people. That is the real question with which no-one has an alternate way to suggest. That is very true.
Does this mean the Dalai Lama will spend less time in Dharamshala from now on? And do you think that will affect relations with the non-Tibetan refugee community?
His Holiness is already spending less time in Dharamshala for the last many years; he's always on demand everywhere. His Holiness spending time in and around Dharamshala is not related to his political leadership. This is a different issue, even if he is able to devolve all his functions to someone else, he may not have much leisure time that I can foresee.
Without the sort of protective halo of His Holiness, whether you're concerned that disunity may emerge among the Tibetan people, and also whether the position of the Tibetan people in India, and their status in India could be threatened in any way?
The status of Tibetans in India will not be affected by this change, because we are refugees in India, registered as foreigners, and there's no problem- we are very much comfortable, and this status has nothing to do with the set up administration. So it will not be one of the big problems.
Is it fair to say that it's time for separation between state and church?
Separation between state and church was done, quite long before; I think separation between state and church is almost in practice since the 1960s, as long as the Assembly of the Tibetan People's Deputies are set up, and that the representation of ‘church' becomes only a representation of the spirituality. So the combination of spirituality and policy does not mean the church rules. Even in the past, Tibet never had been a theocratic system, so therefore I think separation of church and state is not related in today's issue.
Are you going to make any changes to the political system?
When His Holiness devolves the political functions and powers, then of course there would be a number of changes necessary; it will necessitate a number of changes, particularly in the executive side.
Thank you all for coming today. Thank you.