Devolution of Political Authority

Address by Penpa Tsering, Speaker, Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, 06-07 September 2011 at VIF Seminar on ‘Tibet in the Aftermath of Devolution of Political Authority’

It was a very emotional moment for Tibetans all over the world, particularly for Tibetans inside Tibet, when we had to face the inevitability of the firm determination of His Holiness to devolve powers. After many rounds of discussion in Parliament convened especially to discuss about this devolution in March 2011, we came to the conclusion that we should request His Holiness to continue with his political and administrative responsibilities. But ultimately on the 18 March 2011, which also happened to be the fifteenth day of Tibetan first lunar month, His Holiness again stressed on his decision why he devolved power at this juncture.

His Holiness’ vision has two parts. One, of course, is the devolution of His Holiness’s political authority that was basically aimed at strengthening and securing the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). And the second one is obviously the religious role of the Dalai Lamas. His Holiness feels that it will be much easier for the coming Dalai Lamas to maintain just a religious role. The first four Dalai Lamas had a very successful religious role not just in Tibet but also in Mongolia. His Holiness wants now to revert to this position. He feels that the Dalai Lamas, by getting involved in the political arena, become controversial in some way or the other. So His Holiness is very clear about the role of the coming Dalai Lamas to assume most, of course mainly religious roles. But it will also have lot of ramifications including on the reincarnation of the future Dalai Lamas. China has already made very clear its intentions on the recognition and reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama. His Holiness’ move is perhaps another way of thwarting China’s move to recognise future Dalai Lamas.

His Holiness is a democrat at heart. Even way back in 1952, just after signing the 17 point agreement His Holiness wanted to introduce land and taxation reforms inside Tibet. But it could not be implemented because of the political situation at that time. Immediately after coming into exile in 1959 His Holiness said that we have to adopt democratic polity. In the early 1960, he was talking about having elected representatives. By September that year we had the first Parliament. His Holiness had by that time started working on a broad outline of a Constitution for Tibet and, by October 1961, the outline was ready. Based on that, we got lot of inputs from Indian friends and experts on constitutional law and went on to improve that. The draft was also distributed to the Tibetan public for their views and by March 1962 His Holiness had promulgated a Constitution for Tibet.

However, because of circumstances at that time and also because of many other internal reasons we could not proceed or take it forward as much as His Holiness wanted us to go. By 1987-88 His Holiness again started talking to the public on further democratization. He also proposed discussing several issues like the need to have a Prime Ministerial post, a bicameral house, political parties, increasing the strength of the Parliament and so. He dissolved Parliament and Cabinet in May 1990 and set up the Constitution Drafting Committee. By 1991, the number of Members of Parliament was increased, and the Parliament was completely empowered as a legislative body, and a Charter was enacted, which we follow even today. Then, after one decade, in 2000, His Holiness again started talking about reforming the elections of the Cabinet members. In 2001, we made amendments to the Charter and had a directly elected Kalon Tripa – or the chief of the Cabinet for the CTA. All these were set in motion 51 years back and we have gradually reached this stage.

Last August, when we had the first national general meeting of Tibetans settled in south India, His Holiness mentioned about his complete retirement. But at that time we did not think that he would completely retire from both administrative and political responsibilities. In March this year, His Holiness spelled out his real intentions and plans on devolution. As soon as news that His Holiness wanting to devolve all his powers broke out, we received numerous communications from inside Tibet and from Tibetans all over the world requesting His Holiness to continue with his leadership. The Parliament also took lot of time to take the decision, but ultimately we had to make the changes in deference to the wishes of His Holiness. We formed a Charter Amendment Committee and convened a second national general meeting in May, and a special session of the 14th house which was just coming to an end. In that special session on the 29th of May His Holiness signed for the last time the amendment to the Charter.

On the part of the Parliament we did manage to fulfill the long cherished dream of His Holiness to devolve all his powers. His Holiness thinks that he would be a hypocrite if he had not separated the church from the state. His Holiness now feels much relieved. When the national general meeting requested His Holiness to continue as a titular head, he declined. Now he can spend more of his time speaking about world peace, universal responsibilities, teaching secular moral ethics, inter-religious harmony and so on all over the world. But he will continue to guide the Tibetans.

In the amendments that we made to the Charter we concluded a preamble to prove the historical legitimacy of the government that has been handed over to the elected leadership and we also included Article Number 1 in the new Charter which was to serve the purpose of not severing the tie between His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet and the Tibetan people so that we have managed to accomplish partly, to fulfil the aspiration of Tibetan people.

That is where we stand today. Of course we face many challenges with respect to the devolution of power. It will have large ramifications in terms of relations with China, in terms of dialogue with China, and on the response of the international community. His Holiness has been trying to shoulder the transition by taking us with him and introducing us all over the world so that not only the international community, but also the Tibetan diaspora gets accustomed to the new leadership.

His Holiness’ most important vision of international harmony, inter religious harmony and the process of making a world that is a better place to live, Tibetans and all other people will also find a place under that broad vision and that we will also find dignity, freedom and justice. By proposing the middle-way approach, we have made lot of compromises. His Holiness had always been very realistic and he always makes decisions based on the reality. We feel that the continued spirit of the Tibetans inside Tibet, especially the one that we saw in 2008 all across Tibet, was an inspiration for not only the younger generation inside Tibet but also younger generation Tibetans in India and elsewhere in the world. So we need your continued support.

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