The Tibetan Government-in-Exile celebrated its 59th Democracy Day at the McLeodganj monastery on Monday, September 2. This day marks the anniversary of the establishment of the democratic system of the Tibetan people living in exile in India.
September 2, 1960
In February 1960, a little less than a year after he crossed over into India, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama outlined in Bodh Gaya, where The Buddha attained Enlightenment, a detailed programme of democratic practice for exiled Tibetans.
According to the website of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE), he advised them to set up an elected body with three exiled representatives each from the three provinces, and one each from the four religious schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
After elections were held, 13 elected representatives, called ‘Deputies’, were designated as the ‘Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies’ (CTPD). They took oath on September 2, 1960.
Subsequently from 1975 onward, this date began to be formally observed as Tibetan Democracy Day.
The TPiE is the highest legislative body of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). It is described as one of the three pillars of Tibetan democratic governance — the others being the Judiciary and the Kashag, or Executive.
The website of the TPiE underlines the Dalai Lama’s commitment to the democratic principle — it quotes the Dalai Lama from the Foreword to the Constitution for Tibet, drafted in 1963:
“Even prior to my departure from Tibet in March 1959, I had come to the conclusion that in the changing circumstances of the modern world, the system of governance in Tibet must be modified and amended so as to allow the elected representatives of the people to play a more effective role in guiding and shaping the social and economic policies of the State. I also firmly believed that this could only be done through democratic institutions based on social and economic justice.”
The CTA is based in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. Elections are held every five years to elect Members of the TPiE, and their Sikyong (Prime Minister). The 16th TPiE was elected in 2016. This was the second direct election after the Dalai Lama distanced himself from the political functioning of the TPiE in 2011.
On March 10, 1963, the Dalai Lama promulgated the Constitution of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGiE). From 1991 onwards, TPiE became the legislative organ of the CTA, the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission became the judicial organ, and the Kashag the executive organ.
The TGiE is not recognised officially by any country, including India. However, many countries, including the US, deal directly with the Sikyong and other Tibetan leaders through various forums. The TPiE says its democratically elected character helps it manage Tibetan affairs, and raise the Tibetan issue across the world.
The current Sikyong (known as Kalön Tripa until 2012) of the CTA is Lobsang Sangay, who has been the head of the Kashag or Cabinet (first as Kalön Tripa and then as Sikyong) since 2011.