Mock Par­lia­ment

Vot­ing from afar for Tibet’s un­rec­og­nized gov­ern­ment

The Walrus - - MISCELLANY - Har­ley Rus­tad

Norbu Ts er­ing can’t de­cide what to or­der for lunch. Chicken curry from In­dia, the coun­try where he was born, or veg­etable dumplings from Tibet, his an­ces­tral home­land? It’s a me­taphor for this man’s iden­tity and also for a peo­ple who for more than half a cen­tury have been scat­tered and state­less. The soft-spo­ken politi­cian ad­justs his rim­less glasses and scans the eighty-four-item menu. “Ti­betan tea or In­dian tea?” he con­sid­ers aloud as he sits at Om Restau­rant in Toronto’s west end.

Tsering is one of two North Amer­i­can mem­bers of par­lia­ment for the Ti­betan gov­ern­ment-in-ex­ile — an un­of­fi­cial au­thor­ity head­quar­tered in the foothills of north­ern In­dia. “The phrase gov­ern­ment-in-ex­ile is a dou­ble-edged sword,” he says. One edge helps re­mind peo­ple of the Ti­betan plight; the other chal­lenges the very le­git­i­macy of the so-named Cen­tral Ti­betan Ad­min­is­tra­tion (CTA).

Still, on March 20, the ap­prox­i­mately 6,000 Ti­betans liv­ing in Canada, along with the 130,000 around the world, will go to the polls to elect a siky­ong to head their gov­ern­ment and forty-five chitue to fill their par­lia­ment. While world lead­ers are wary of even say­ing the word Tibet for fear of in­flam­ing China, Canada and other sov­er­eign na­tions al­low elec­tions to be held within their bor­ders for a gov­ern­ment that they don’t rec­og­nize as law­ful and that, re­al­is­ti­cally, doesn’t even ex­ist.

In 2011, the Dalai Lama broke with four cen­turies of tra­di­tion by re­lin­quish­ing the tem­po­ral au­thor­ity of his po­si­tion and call­ing on his peo­ple to elect a leader. Nearly 50,000 Ti­betans reg­is­tered in more than thirty coun­tries to cast a bal­lot. This year, vot­ers in Canada will present their Green Book at des­ig­nated com­mu­nity cen­tres. The all-im­por­tant doc­u­ment is is­sued by the CTA to ev­ery “cit­i­zen” in ex­ile; it is also proof that the holder has paid cha­trel, a $133 do­na­tion to sup­port the gov­ern­ment un­til Tibet gains in­de­pen­dence.

Mud­sling­ing and at­tack ads have never fea­tured promi­nently in mild-man­nered Ti­betan politics, but last year the CTA brought about elec­toral re­form any­way. Cam­paign spend­ing for a chitue hope­ful is now capped at just over $6,000 — not much, con­sid­er­ing Tsering can­vassed in Van­cou­ver, Mon­treal, and Cal­gary be­fore the last elec­tion. The CTA also banned the use of the Dalai Lama’s im­age as a pro­mo­tional aid af­ter its elec­tion com­mis­sion no­ticed can­di­dates had used it to curry favour on the cam­paign trail. A selfie with His Ho­li­ness does not an en­dorse­ment make. (If you get busted, you lose 5 per­cent of your votes.) Tsering ad­mits he used a pic­ture of him­self with the Dalai Lama in a DVD that he dis­trib­uted in 2011. “But a lot of peo­ple did,” he says, push­ing chicken curry around his plate with a piece of naan. “Not to show off, but to show how com­mit­ted you are to the cause.”

The newly elected MPS — two from North Amer­ica, two from Europe, one from Aus­trala­sia, and the rest from South Asia — will con­gre­gate twice a year in Mcleod Ganj, a leafy town that’s home to the Dalai Lama. There, the CTA op­er­ates like any other gov­ern­ment. MPS pro­pose de­part­men­tal bud­gets and pri­vate mem­bers’ bills and sug­gest amend­ments to the twen­tysix-page Char­ter of the Ti­betans-in-ex­ile.

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