Monday, March 21, 2016

RTYC Chitue Debate

How can a small army of people be able to pull off a successful debate for the six candidates running for 16th Tibetan Parliamentary in exile representing Tibetans from North America? But they did and did it beautifully. The host RTYC in DC wins accolades from all participants and audience.
On Saturday, Jan 9th, all six candidates running for the two posts allocated to Tibetans in North America participated in the debate organized by RTYC at the Ernst Cultural Center on the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

The candidate participants are Tsewang Rigzin and Kalsang GGT, Pema Chagzoetsang, Kalsang Phuntsok Godrukpa, Tashi Namgyal and Tenzin Rangdol,
  The debate was an excellent opportunity to familiarize the candidates on their policy, stance and electability. It was a forum for open discussion to enrich Tibetan people's democratic rights. Based on the candidates’ policy communication, voters might have made the decision as whom they want to vote. The ability to bring all the candidates under one roof and present them to the electorate in Washington D.C is a quite remarkable feat.
  Regional Tibetan Youth Congress in Washington D.C consists of a small group of dedicated individuals, who have tirelessly worked to make the event a success.  In the following, I will be answering five questions in the debate:
 How is it organized?
 The host of the Chitue debate ensures that everything flows smoothly. Every effort is made to avoid any glitch . The hall is beautifully decorated and adorned with Tibetan national snow lion flags. As one reviewer on Facebook commented the scene as "magnificent and dignified." Local Tibetan audience fully packed the hall. Even though the host has no idea of how many Tibetans would make, but it appears the audience size and the building were in tandem. The background of the stage is overlooked with a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; beneath proclaim the purpose of the event:   North American debate for Chitue.  The candidates are called upon to be seated on the stage.  The moderator, timer and sound system, video recording of the entire preceding everything is in place, and it was all ready. The audiences are instructed even at the start not to clap. From the beginning till the end, it was a well-planned event fit for such a solemn occasion.
 What was Everyone's Expectation?
 There is a sense of urgency among Tibetan voters and audience. Most of them who came for the debate are eligible to vote in the general election. They might have made their decision on the final vote, based on their preliminary round or they are yet to make up their mind to the last. So getting to know one’s candidate more closely is the aspiration and hope of many audiences. Some fans are curious, and excited for such a great exercise of their rights and responsibilities and being part of an exile Tibetan democratic journey. The audience hope is high, and they are also there to assess each candidate's qualifications and credentials to serve the Tibetan people. Such a large number of local Tibetan people's presence for the debate tells volumes of their interest and attention.  But they are more Tibetans from the area who have not shown up for a varied of reasons.
 Was it a game changer?
 The debate was little long winded, and at times gives an impression of someone giving a stump speech. Without strong interaction and exchange among the candidates, it becomes a bit boring at some point. But one candidates' sense of humor enlivened the hall. The underdog Kelsang GGT's confidence and easiness of dealing with issues, and his direct appeal to the audience to vote him, resonates with us to certain extend. It was little funny, begging vote, but in a sense of his joke, breaks the ice somewhat.
 There wasn't any game changer in this debate. Everyone did their part, some responding to the question in the general sense and others with some specificity. Grudruk Kalsang Phuntsok has most of the time dominating the debate with his rhetoric and his response to the challenge to Shugden followers was illuminating and insightful, by clearly pointing out the importance of understanding the composition of the supporters, rather than generalizing them. He mentioned they are three types of Shugden followers, and it is important to differentiate them in dealing with them.
But the little animosity between the K. Phuntsok and Tsewang Rinzin was awkward on the stage. Any attack, no matter who initiates looks bad on both of them. Tibetan audience seems to prefer more civil and respectful exchange than any negative comments. That is probably because of our pacifying culture.   Audience submitted questions concerning critics of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and ways to deal with Shugden followers. The candidates boldly opinioned on  Sino-Tibetan talk,  preservation of Tibetan language and culture for Tibetans in North America. The audience even tested them on issues related to the candidate’s personal life and contribution toward Tibet, and their plans and goals for the future as an elected officials.
 Who stood out and shined?
 It looks like every audience views differently at their performance. When I asked a question of who won the debate, nobody has a definitive answer. But some names came up, such as Tenzin Rindrol, the populist as called, others says Gondruk, and then Tsewang Rinzin, Pema, etc. It is hard to tell who the clear winner is. Candidates got their opportunity to make them known. The substance of their talk and response is assessed based on the clarity of their thinking and fluency with which they address. While they are admirations for Tenzin, they are also those who believes he is little too immature and lacks the comprehensive understanding of the Tibetan social, political and economic issues in its entirety. He is passionate and enthusiastic, but Tibetan parliament is not a training place. One has to have all the credential to execute successfully what the Rep is called or.    Pema, the lone lady, appears to be sincere, though a soft speaker, who has to her credit decade of service for Tibetan community especially in Salt Lake City, and other experience to flaunt. Pema might not be speaking as eloquently as existing Tibetan parliament member, but she is more trustworthy. Her nomination of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Templeton Prize is noteworthy. Tsewang Rinzin's response in dealing with the rift between TYC Centrex and TYCNY chapter was decisive and resounding, by which demonstrates his loyalty to the organization, even at the risk of losing votes for his frankness and clear stand.  He has definitively scored big points for daring to be clear on the issues.  Kelsang GGT can show off his business acumen based on his successful hotel enterprise, but instead his repeated joke on why he is a stronger candidate than other could be perceived as not severe enough. But he makes the points of paying out of his own pockets if he is elected. And his stress on the importance of increasing the number of Rangzen voluntary contribution was a real point.
 Audience reactions?
 Usually, Tibetan gathering at any events is dragging and troublesome, with many not showing up unless it is for Lama's empowerment or initiation, but the debate is well attended, and audience enthusiasm level is at all-time high. The organizer estimates in-house audience at 150, as Tibetan from Charlottesville, and Maryland and even few from New York attended.  There was explosive laughter from the audience at Tenzin Randol's two quotes consecutively in his final closing statement. The audience might sense it as a kind of show off or find it as a school student debate or for something else, but what is clear is the audience's engagement and attentiveness as they are hanging on every word the candidates utter. As the debate wraps up, audience flocks to pose for a photo with their respective favorite candidates.

 There was a big buzz amongst the audience post-debate in the open hall,  a kind of satisfaction and joy to witness this wonderful democratic exercise in exile diaspora.  Everyone unanimously applauded RTYC for hosting such as successful event, which some have initially doubted for its practicality.  It is not only the candidates are relieved at the end, as some of them immediately catch a flight back to their place, as they come right from the airport at the beginning.

The day ends in a celebratory mood, as each audience return to their respective homes and some end up in the restaurant for a night of amusement, fun and purpose. The dedication of the Washington RTYC board members pays off with this successful debate on a shoestring budget. It has not only raised their profile and reputation as a cohesive group, but their service and commitment at their personal sacrifice wins the hearts of Tibetan across America and beyond.   As an Indian saint said gives me four dedicated people, and I will move the mountain. RTYC has this time really moved the mountains.

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