By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
Thanks to absurd actions by the Tibetan Election Commission and the last minute change of rules after the preliminary ballots were in, thereby disqualifying an able candidate, the race for Sikyong has quite frankly devolved into farce. While that is a topic for another day, the race for Chitue still looks fair and competitive. Below, we share a few thoughts about the candidates for the two North American Chitue seats. We are particularly positive about the candidacies of Pema Chagzoetsang and Tsewang Rigzin.
Pema Chagzoetsang, the only woman standing as a candidate, has distinguished herself by her lengthy service record. She has served as a leader in the Utah Tibetan community, as well as 10 years on the board of Tibet Fund. Chagzoetsang seems to have brought a voice of constructive scrutiny to Tibet Fund's operations -- a trait of which the Tibetan Parliament could use more.
Whereas Chagzoetsang supports the Middle Way position, Tsewang Rigzin takes a principled position for Rangzen. (It would certainly go a long way toward restoring unity in the Tibetan community by sending one pro-Middle Way and one pro-Rangzen member to represent North America in the Tibetan Parliament). During his time leading the Tibetan Youth Congress, Rigzin served with distinction and balance, even in the face of some unfair attacks from more radical voices opposing TYC's long-standing position on Rangzen.
Rigzin showed that he is willing to sacrifice for the Tibetan cause, having moved his family (including children) from a comfortable life in the US to India for several years to serve as TYC president. During recent debates, Rigzin spoke clearly and compellingly about what he believes and what he hopes to accomplish as Chitue.
Of course the other pro-Rangzen candidate is Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa, who served as TYC president before Rigzin. While Godrukpa is charismatic and self-confident, there are also downsides to his candidacy. When he ran unsuccessfully for Kalon Tripa in 2011, his campaign website made some over-the-top claims like his claimed "ability to perceive the inner aspirations of all Tibetans.”<1> The site also made some factually false statements; it claimed that a hunger strike organized by Godrukpa led to the appointment of a “Special UN Rapporteur for Tibet” and that Godrukpa had testified in front of “the International Commission of Jurist[s]", both of which were untrue.
We are also concerned about Godrukpa's leadership -- or lack thereof -- during the TYC-led march to Delhi in 2007. We wrote about this issue in 2010, but in summary, thousands of Tibetans responded to TYC's call to converge on Delhi for a vaguely thought-out mass mobilization.<2> Many dedicated Tibetans were frustrated and disheartened by the lack of any plan once they arrived in Delhi. The Mass Movement ended after a one day rally was dispersed by Indian police. The Movement's stated goals were not achieved. Godrukpa then disappeared from public view. We believe Godrukpa needs to show that his leadership skills have grown since then if he hopes to be elected Chitue.
The only incumbent seeking re-election is Seattle’s Tashi Namgyal, since Toronto’s Norbu Tsering is not seeking a second term. Namgyal was not originally elected in 2011, but he became Chitue thanks to a seat vacated by Dickyi Chhoyang upon her appointment to the Kashag. He comes into this race with the advantage of incumbency, and he stands a fair likelihood of re-election based simply on name-recognition.
As incumbent, Namgyal’s record over the past five years deserves inquiry. His election materials discuss his official participation (as one of the two North American Chitues) in the Gratitude Tenshug to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but they do not specify the precise contributions he made in terms of work. In Parliament, he does not appear to have much of a record to speak of, except in his role in forcing the Office of Tibet in Washington DC to swap out a portrait of His Holiness instead of a portrait of Sikyong Sangay that had been installed in a prominent spot. That could seem like quite a trivial achievement. Namgyal's way of proceeding with this issue, bringing the matter up in a Parliament Session rather than simply having a word with the Office staff, seemed to some very calculated to please the masses.
Namgyal is a supporter of the Middle Way.
Troublingly, Namgyal has not explained his role in the March 10, 2015 debacle in New York. Namgyal was a chief guest of the organizers who decided to forcibly bar any pro-Rangzen voices from the event, and Namgyal even sat passively on the stage during some of the more shameful actions. He previously promised that "I will readily resign from the parliament rather than be a part of any action that will discredit the Tibetan people."<3> While he likely does not have to go that far, at least he might consider an explanation as to his role in this unfortunate event or why he did nothing to try to stop it.
By far the youngest challenger is Tenzin Rangdol. Like the majority of the candidates, Rangdol supports the Middle Way policy. Rangdol is one of two candidates who not only ran during the primary election, but who also submitted the $500 fee to guarantee his spot on the final ballot as a "voluntary" candidate (a procedure that is very troubling, but that's the responsibility of the Election Commission for setting up this shortcut).
Rangdol is a serious young man who is clearly very eager to be elected. What's less clear is his record so far of leadership in service to the Tibetan cause. While a sparse record is not necessarily a bar, he will need to demonstrate to voters that he has the necessary vision, commitment, responsibility, and integrity to serve as the North American Chitue.
Rangdol will also likely need to show that he has the ability to serve as an independent voice: during a video of a recent Chitue debate, it was notable the number of times that Rangdol mentioned "Dhonchoe Ku-ngo", referring to Representative Kaydor Aukatsang, who was sitting in the first row of the audience in front of Rangdol.<4> He also was the only candidate who failed to respond with any specifics about a question on the candidates' plans to promote the teaching of Tibetan language and culture to the North American Tibetan youth.
The last Chitue candidate is Kalsang GGT (Gangjong Gesar Tsang), from Vermont. Kalsang, like Rangdol, decided to ensure his place on the final ballot by paying the $500 fee. He is a businessman (he owns a hotel in Vermont), and appears enthusiastic about serving as Chitue.
In conclusion, the Tibetan people in North America are choosing between six candidates (an incumbent and five challengers) for two spots. For the reasons stated above, we are particularly positive about the candidacies of Pema Chagzoetsang and Tsewang Rigzin, but the voters are fortunate to have such a distinguished set of candidates from which to choose. As always, we welcome any candidate to send in their own materials for publication, and invite any voter to submit articles with their own perspectives.