By Jigme Ugen
I hate political elections. I hate political advisements. I hate the sudden surge of self-proclaimed political pundits and journalists. I hate metaphorical postings on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and other sophisticated techniques of mass persuasion. I hate elections influenced by whispering campaigns from cautious folks who hide behind personal anxieties. I hate those cynical past rumors from a candidate’s walk-in closet in their ghost suites. I hate those dreary repetitive debates filled with waffling hypothetical questions. I hate that there’s always only two accentuated candidates that we can decide on winning. And, I hate that most people don't even vote.
Yet I enthusiastically wait for elections.
The political junkie in me gets its fix listening to good fights over policy and positions. I love the enormous and energetic task of winning lifted exclusively by the candidates and their campaigners. I love reading and listening to those humorless academic talking-heads preach politics. I love watching candidates chitchatting with ordinary people. I love those skewed and statistically awkward polls. The predictions, the inoculations, the endless promises, the anecdotes, the spins, the sound-bites and the abrupt urgency created. But most of all, I love the act of voting.
We regularly see, hear and read about how the election period easily creates breeding grounds for feuds and perpetual hatred, sometimes even violence. These unquestionably revive the longstanding argument that ‘Politics is a dirty game’. Fortunately, Tibetan political elections have generally been engaged without even a bruise to mar a campaign or a candidate’s overall reputation.
However with the upcoming 2011 Tibetan elections, many voters seem troubled by the new development of character assassination and pernicious cheerleading tone of fanatical supporters who deliberately take words and actions of candidates out of context in order to make a political point.
The cornerstone of any democratic election lies in a voter’s ability to think and formulate their own opinion. Opinions broadly based on why they are voting for a certain candidate instead of why they are not voting for the other candidate. Historically it has been proven that the moment voters are made to decide a vote against someone they hate instead of voting for someone they support, it gives rise to negative campaigning. This election may prove to be no different…..
Negative campaigning essentially is not so much about getting passionate for your candidate as it is about getting impassionate against the other contender. Now that does not imply that all people who are for a candidate are negative or filled with hate. Obviously many supporters and campaigners genuinely believe in the position of their candidate.
While organizing and strategizing numerous political campaigns in America, the best experience and lessons I’ve learned have largely been from losing them. By winning an election, we tend to believe that we ran a perfect campaign while a loss makes us focus on the flaws and actually look back to understand and realize the opponent’s strategy. Even the candidates themselves get anxious about ‘winning’
and fail to honestly look at their respective issues or how the campaign’s being conducted.
As Tibetans, we must understand and consciously note that political elections are beyond campaigning and beyond candidates winning or losing a race. Our political elections are an unadulterated process that officially questions the Chinese government’s illegal occupation of Tibet and its denunciation of the Tibetan government in exile. For us, voting is not just a democratic right or a civic duty, but rather a personal responsibility in recognizing the Tibetan government as the legitimate representative of our nation and her people.
We can’t afford risking the biggest surge of voter enfranchisement in our modest election history to the nastiness of unsavory campaigns. Sure, it may help a candidate win, but it does so by discouraging people from voting or getting involved in the political process in other ways. Most candidates who win during negative campaigns commonly end up being pressurized to drop their individuality and sometimes the very issues they were elected on, either by their own supporters or the opponents.
Then ‘who is a saint without flaws’? That question never gets us very far in politics, if anywhere in the world. The more important question at hand is examining which candidate is comparatively the best? We must re-think our focus on a candidate’s merits rather than an opponent’s demerits. Ultimately it’s up to us to research issues that best serve our movement and government, determine what we think about it, and subsequently vote for the candidate that best meets those needs.
We cannot be a community separated by regional and sectarian beliefs standing in political discordant in the policies towards Tibet’s future – more polarized by electoral dogmas and antagonistic attitudes. If we continue creating more divergences, the future, no matter what candidate may win, will ultimately be one of great tumult. Not only will that threaten democracy’s ability to function but also make it more difficult to cohesively solve our existing fragmentary glitches. The stakes in this election are higher than ever before.
Our movement’s future and our society’s power depend on us working together, instead of against each other divided by toxic campaigning. We do not have the luxury of petty party-based politicking. Our political elections should be a process to discuss ideas and give constructive critiques. To empower the community and build unity. To inspire thoughtful approaches of governing. To solidifying policies to further establish and strengthen our government in-exile. And, especially to consider different tactics on how to solve our crisis as a nation.
Let's do this election right, and let’s do that with veracity to get the best person elected! Then let’s get back to the greater issue and our most important responsibility - fighting for Tibet’s independence. (The author was recently elected to his second term as Vice President of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. He is the current President of RTYC-MN (Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of Minnesota) and has also served as the General Secretary. He worked on the late Senator Paul Wellstone’s re-election campaign in Minnesota. After Senator Wellstone's tragic death in 2002, Ugen went to work for SEIU as an organizer, and then became a lead organizer, a coordinator, and a business representative.)The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.