Views & Analysis
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Dharamshala: In the midway results of the ongoing "Online Opinion Poll on 2011 Kalon Tripa Primary Election", 23 percent of participants responded "Yes" and 19 percent responded "Don't Know" to the concluding question, "As a result of the entire Kalon Tripa electoral process, do you believe we, as Tibetans, are more divided now than before?" Even though the poll lacks a good sampling technique to generalise the findings, from my personal experiences so far, I see indicators of what the 23 percent of respondents may be trying to communicate through their responses.

Throughout the process of the Kalon Tripa election, three groups of interested Tibetan electorates emerged: first, the supporters and campaigners; second, the writers; and third, the observers. The supporters and campaigners have been very vocal and clear about their choice of candidates. I see this category not as a problem. They help the general public to learn about their choice of candidate via video footage, fliers, fund raising events, and so on. Most importantly, people in this group generally have faces.

However, the biggest concern I see is the second group of people, i.e. the writers. When I say writer, I mean to include every individual who writes (and comments on) articles, opinions, blogs, notes, pieces, and Facebook statuses.

I agree with the role the writers play in the development of our nascent democracy in exile. On the flip side, however, these writers may also play a covert role in misdirecting our emerging democracy to a degree where the will and interest of the average Tibetan in democracy will be lost in the transition. We can observe an example of such democracy in and around our own country of residence.

The definition of writers has expanded several folds in recent decades with the enormous growth of social networking sites. Scott Galloway in his presentation on "Trends and Impacts on Digital Competence" highlights Facebook and Youtube as the two major sites that shares the highest global online time spent by web users. Therefore, in this social network age, anyone with an Internet connection and a Facebook account can write, post, and comment; similarly, anyone with a smart phone can capture a video for Facebook or Youtube. The most recent and remarkable inspirational example of this digital competence is the uprising in Egypt where protesters connected and organised via Facebook, and shared their videos with the world via their smart phones. Even though the Kalon Tripa election is in no way comparable to the Egyptian revolution, one can see the connection on the popular use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Youtube; that is to share views and opinions on the Kalon Tripa election and candidates among the exile Tibetan Diaspora.

One of the most popular groups in Facebook for the Kalon Tripa election is "The youth's responsibility for Kalon Tripa 2011". On this group's wall, members can see several categories of wall posts, notes, video footage, links, and comments related to the Kalon Tripa election and candidates. Unlike the supporters and campaigners, some of the group members, who write and comment frequently, have no faces. They come with an anonymous profile name and picture which not only makes it easier to be "No One" but also share their opinions with less or no hesitation. These anonymous members are a concern because they share their views and opinions with no accountability or obligation, yet leave behind a footprint of hatred, disrespect, and division. Tibetan democracy should not embrace faceless Tibetans who do not share a sense of responsibility towards the larger cause, which is to establish a vibrant society wherein every Tibetan shares responsibility for his or her role in the growth of Tibetan democracy in exile. Remember, democracy is for the people and by the people. It is not for the faceless and by the faceless web users.

Let me share three of the postings of this Facebook group in the last 24 hours. These writings are self-explanatory. One member said, "don;t embarrass urself by abusing me again and again, and please, no half truths..if u got an answer..reply..if u don;t know much about it..reasearch well and answer"; the next one said, "don't try to be slimy and twist the workds, do us a favor ..... if you can't do that then damn you"; and another said, "you brought up the drama so the question should be directed towards you". These three postings are each directed towards members of the group. I chose not to quote postings directed towards individual Kalon Tripa candidates. When I read postings and comments in this Facebook group, I reflect on what President Obama said at a press conference on Feb 9, 2009:

"The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose".

On this Facebook group's page, I don't see a debate. But, regretfully, I see frequent and lively arguments where a majority of the group's members engage in accusing or belittling each other's views and opinions while keeping their biases firm. It seems every member is trying to prove his or her views, generally based on assumptions, as the absolute truth. I don't see learning by debate or discussion among the group members, setting aside their differences in service of a greater purpose. Rather, they dislike each other and are using Facebook as a medium to press their opinions. Is this the reason why a quarter of the poll respondent thinks Tibetan are more divided now? Or are there other reasons? I will leave that for you to think about and analyse.

Also, please remember it is not only President Obama but also the "Basic Education Policy for Tibetans in Exile" that embraces the importance of setting aside small differences and focusing on working for a greater purpose. The meaning of education is not to be defined as merely grasping what is heard from others. Instead, it is to be recognised as a realisation of what is heard through the power of self-confirmation and actualisation of what is realised through persistent contemplation (Article 2.2 of Basic Education Policy for Tibetans in Exile). I hope Tibetans recognise and embrace this meaning of education to help our democracy in exile flourish and grow in the right direction, bringing Tibetans closer to each other. Tibetans need to grow with the popular saying, "Unity in Diversity".

The final group is the observers. Literally, they are the people causing no harm. They restrain themselves from writing, commenting, or speaking for anyone or on anything. However, the group is a concern for a democratic society. Democracy works best when it hears the people's voices. In other words, in a democracy, there should not be a space for a "Voice of the Voiceless".

On a side note, the entire problem with Tibetan democracy in exile may be its origin. Democracy for Tibetans in exile was not earned. Instead, the Dalai Lama, regardless of resistance from the general Tibetan public, bestowed democracy upon the exile Tibetan populace. The problem, associated with blessed democracy, is the lack of shared responsibility by Tibetans to study the democratic principles, ideals, values, and citizen's responsibilities, among others. This observation seems true among Tibetans, as a large number do not share these responsibilities or embrace and respect their differences. It remains to be seen how Tibetans will accept the will of the majority when a candidate wins the Kalon Tripa position.

Looking at the problems of this blessed democracy as well as the divisions created by the Kalon Tripa election, the questions that lingers is - Do Tibetans need a democracy in exile? How will Tibetan democracy in exile develop and flourish? Will the future exile Tibetan Diaspora strengthen with democracy in exile?