Farewell “freedom fighter” Lobsang Sangay, Welcome Sikyong Penpa Tsering

Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama blessing the Sikyong Swearing-in ceremony. Sikyong Penpa Tsering and outgoing Sikyong Lobsang Sangay on 27th May 2021
(Photo credit: Tibet.net)

By Tsering Passang*

London | 29th May 2021

Dr. Lobsang Sangay, who was first elected in 2011, completed his second-term as President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) on 26th May.

On the final day of his duty, the outgoing Sikyong Lobsang Sangay addressed the official thank you function, and said, “To fulfill my mandate as Sikyong, I formulated new strategies to elevate CTA’s profile and to express our willingness to restore dialogues with China to obtain genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people based on the Middle Way Approach. I met with various foreign government officials in small coffee shops, private offices, and other public locations. I gave priority to substance and relationship-building while making concerted efforts to upgrade protocol and level of meetings whenever I could.”

Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay addressing the official Thank you function on 26th May 2021 with his full cabinet members (Photo credit: Tibet.net)

Prior to joining the CTA in 2011, Sangay, who grew up in a small Tibetan refugee settlement near Darjeeling, West Bengal, was a Senior Fellow at Harvard University. Sangay’s sudden rise and his adoption of western leadership-style came across as a disruptive Tibetan leader to the more conservative Tibetan society to an extent.

His supporters say that Sangay’s direct jump to the highest office with no prior experience in CTA public service had raised eyebrows and drew criticisms from many Tibetan quarters including senior bureaucrats and elite political class from the start. However, Sangay was much admired by the younger generation, drawing big crowds during Tibetan public gatherings in India and overseas. He speaks plain Tibetan with no jargon, and reaches out to the masses at ease. Youth aspires to change and shake-up the CTA and they believe Sangay was their man to do that job.

Of his many achievements during the ten-year period, as President of the CTA, Dr. Lobsang Sangay highlighted the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020. He said, “Finally, during the last months of my term, I was able to visit the US State Department and the White House as the Sikyong of the CTA, and as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people. These developments, along with the passage of the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 by the US Congress, mark a new turn in the relationship between the US and the CTA. I hope our relations with other countries take a similar turn.”

Like in any administration, President Lobsang Sangay too faced some challenges including resignation of ministers towards the end of his first term in office. Whilst acknowledging his colleagues, President Sangay stated, “I would like to thank my colleagues in both the 14th and 15th Kashag, senior advisors, and the dedicated and hardworking staff of the CTA. We worked together through the historic devolution of political and administrative power from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to an elected Tibetan leadership. Together, we strengthened support for Tibet from various governments and legislatures across the globe. Together, we invested in education, ensured the financial resiliency of the CTA, and the Tibetan refugee community.”

Sangay, who was once a leader of the largest network of Tibetan youth, the Tibetan Youth Congress, based in Dharamsala, said, “My role as the Sikyong ends today, but my resolve to fight for the Tibetan cause will continue and will remain strong forever. I was born a freedom fighter and I will die a freedom fighter.”

There were no shortages of  appreciation and recognition awards from Tibetan communities both in India and overseas to Dr Lobsang Sangay for his outstanding leadership, commitment and hard work during his two terms as the Sikyong. Even Tibetans from inside Tibet as well as those in exile composed songs and paid tributes to what they call the “people’s Sikyong”.

In a good human society, it is reasonable that Sangay’s public service is accorded with respect and that the Tibetans in diasporas extend their warm appreciation to him for his political leadership. Sangay may not have achieved all the things that he said he would do ten years ago, but no Tibetan can deny the fact that Dr. Lobsang Sangay had not worked hard to advance the cause of Tibet on the global stage. Sangay was often praised for his savvy media engagements and outreach via new global platforms. The Cabinet Office has recently released a report detailing ten major achievements under Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s ten-year leadership, published on www.tibet.net, the official website of the Central Tibetan Administration.

One major task that Dr. Lobsang Sangay would have liked to achieve during his Sikyong-tenure, is the revival of the Sino-Tibetan Dialogue between His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese government. However, this did not materialise despite efforts put by Sangay and his administration. Sangay often pointed out that the dialogue between Dharamsala and Beijing had stalled in 2010, before he joined the CTA.

Handover of Sikyong Seal to President Penpa Tsering

The official swearing-in ceremony of the new Sikyong, Mr. Penpa Tsering, held on 27th May, in the Office of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission, was administered by the Chief Justice Commissioner, Mr Sonam Norbu Dagpo.

Sikyong Swearing-in Ceremony, administered by Chief Commissioner Sonam Norbu Dagpo
27th May 2021 (Photos credit: Tibet.net)

The ceremony was blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama via a video-link, which was broadcast live on Tibet TV, the official media channel of the Central Tibetan Administration. The outgoing Sikyong, Dr. Lobsang Sangay was seen handing over the Sikyong Seal to the incoming Sikyong Penpa Tsering at the official ceremony, ensuring a smooth handover of power. Due to COVID restrictions, the swearing-in ceremony’s attendance was limited to the Secretary of Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission and the Cabinet Secretary in addition to the outgoing Sikyong. In 2011, Dr. Sangay received the Sikyong Seal from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, representing the official transfer of inherited political authority of the Tibetan people in Tibet, to the directly elected exiled political leader.

The Tibetan spiritual leader then gave a special address after extending congratulations and commending both political leaders for their service. The Dalai Lama once again reiterated his full faith in the “Middle-Way” approach which he said would bring great benefits to both Chinese and Tibetan peoples when liberal Chinese leaders accept the pragmatic proposal. Under this proposal, Tibet is to remain within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the whole Tibetan regions should come under one single entity, which is to be governed by the Tibetans themselves. Beijing is to command foreign relations and defence whilst the Tibetans themselves should enjoy genuine self-rule internally. But, so far, the Chinese leadership in Beijing has not accepted the Dalai Lama’s proposal.

Inaugural address by Sikyong Penpa Tsering

In his first official address after taking the oath of office, Sikyong Penpa Tsering said, “In response to the trust and expectations of the majority of the general public in this election, I reiterate my commitment to direct all my energies in carrying out the responsibility of finding a lasting solution for the Sino-Tibet conflict and looking after the welfare of the Tibetan people.

“We shall not dither from pointing out the gross mistakes of the Chinese government’s policies and programs and seek to redress, withdraw or amend the wrong policies.” 

Responding to the latest Chinese government’s white paper ‘Tibet Since 1951, Liberation, Development and Prosperity’ published on 21st May, Sikyong Penpa Tsering added, “All I can say today is that we are open to sending people to verify all the claims made in the white paper.”

He appealed to the Tibetan people and said, “We lost our country and are political refugees. We all share the common goal of resolving the Sino-Tibet conflict. To resolve issues and disputes within the community, all of us have the right and the means to resolve such issues as per norms, rules and regulations. The executive shall not only respect the right to freedom of expression and listen to reasonable opinions but also respond appropriately. I earnestly request the general public for better cooperation and responsibility.”

Tibetan General Elections 2021

The Tibetan people went to the polls in January (preliminary round) and April (final round) 2021 to elect their Sikyong (President) and 45 Chithue (MPs). Penpa Tsering, a former Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, secured the highest votes in both rounds.

On 14th May, the Central Tibetan Election Commission declared Mr. Penpa Tsering as the new Sikyong, who narrowly beat Mr Kelsang Dorjee Aukatsang. Aukatsang, friend of Dr Lobsang Sangay, served as a close aide in his administration in various roles during the past ten years. He secured strong personal backing from Sangay but narrowly lost in the Sikyong elections by just over 5000 votes. Some 77% of the 83,000 registered Tibetan voters across 26 countries took part in the recent elections to elect their President and MPs. 

The Central Tibetan Administration (aka Tibetan Government-in-exile) serves as the headquarters for the Tibetans in diasporas. Dharamsala-based CTA was established soon after His Holiness the Dalai Lama reached India in March 1959, following China’s occupation of Tibet.

*Tsering Passang is the Founder & Convener at the Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities (GATPM). With 20 years experience in development and advocacy work on Tibet and human rights, Tsering most recently served as Tibet Foundation’s Director. He was elected Chairman and led the Tibetan Community UK from 2014 to 2016. Between 2014 and 2018, Tsering served on the Council of Tibet Society and later as its Special Adviser. Tsering’s blog: www.tsamtruk.com Twitter: @tsamtruk

Author: Tsering Passang (Tsamtruk)

NGO Professional | Activist | Author | Founder and Chairman, Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities (GATPM)

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