By Dhondup Phunkhang, Boston
Recently, a topic of discussion within Boston and in some online forums has been around the fact that Lobsang Sangay la hasn’t held a talk in his hometown of Boston. Some of his supporters, and other individuals in Boston including me, have asked him to speak but now, with the election just a few days away, it appears that Lobsang la will not be holding any campaign event here. Given that he's visited just about every other Tibetan community in the world, this begs the question as to why?
I have known Lobsang Sangay la for over ten years. We served on the first Tibetan Association of Boston (TAB) Board of Directors for three years, worked together on His Holiness’s trip to Boston in 2009 for a year with sixteen other Tibetans and on various other community and Chinese outreach programs. I have always found him to be a personable, confident go-getter, and a captivating speaker.
Early last year, Lobsang la and I spoke at length about organizing a “proper debate” with rebuttals, and half of it to be in English for our younger members here in Boston and worldwide. TAB tried to organize this but sadly, this debate never panned out due to conflicting schedules. The next best thing was to have the final three Kalon Tripa candidates speak directly to the public. I am grateful to the various Boston supporters of Katri Surpa Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la and Kasur Tashi Wangdu la who invited their candidates for events on Dec 19th and Feb 20th, respectivel,y and for which I had the honor of being the MC.
As a follow-up to the visits of the other two candidates, I asked Lobsang la about any plans to hold a talk in Boston when I saw him at the VOA debate in Washington DC. He said, “I’ll be talking in Boston on March 18th.” I offered to help and his reply was, “let’s talk in Boston”. Just a few days later, when I saw him at Losar he said, “I don’t see the need to talk here but maybe I will”. Naturally, I was a little taken aback by this considering what he had said in DC.
In the back and forth over why Lobsang la has not once talked to the Boston public since the announcement of his candidacy, people have speculated on various possible reasons that I would like to discuss and respond to here. They include:
-He doesn’t feel the need to talk here because he has public support.
At the debate in New York City, Lobsang la indicated that he knew he had won Boston in the primaries. Aside from the fact that I found it outrageous that a Kalon Tripa candidate would reveal leaked information in such a way - information that we cannot verify - I think it shouldn't matter whether or not Lobsang la thought he had won Boston. Even the most seasoned politicians hold events in their home ridings, especially if they enjoy huge public support. Holding such an event is important not just for the sake of the campaign, but it's a sign of respect to the community that indicates the candidate cares for the people with whom he has lived and worked over many years.
-He doesn’t have enough time.
That may be the case right now at this late date, but it wasn’t for the last year. Lobsang la has found time to visit the smallest of settlements in India, some several times over, and at the end of all of these trips he has been returning to Boston, even if only for a few days at a time.
-Even Tashi Wangdu la didn’t speak in Europe (his last home).
Tashi Wangdu la didn't start campaigning until the very last minute and he hasn’t spoken in many places. Lobsang la, on the other hand, has been campaigning for more than a year and has spoken everywhere but Boston.
-There is not a lot of support for him here or he may face tough questions as the Boston public knows him best.
Even if there were tough questions to be answered in Boston, as someone seeking public office, Lobsang la has a responsibility to meet the people and address their concerns head on. Clearly, he has the ability to do this as he has addressed many tough questions on the campaign trail.
I believe we need to hold all our candidates to high standards of accountability, especially those applying for the highest office. I feel we Tibetans have achieved a lot in the last 52 years, largely due to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s leadership. The overwhelming international public support and Tibet’s continued relevancy in today’s world has much to do with His Holiness’s tireless work, his moral authority, integrity and credibility; these are values I feel we need to look for in our new Kalon Tripa especially as he will be taking over much of His Holiness’s political role.
I believe we need change but change with values and meaning. Given that we don’t have a country, we have limited funds, no legal judicial system, very little media and certainly no formal independent regulators doing fact checks, we are left only with ourselves and our personal and collective character. The public has a right to ask questions regardless of which way they sway, after all the Kalon Tripa will be representing ALL of us.
Considering these important facts, I am quite disappointed in Lobsang Sangay la for his decision not to speak here in Boston. A good leader must show the highest level of integrity in order to win the trust and faith of the people. It is essential that we have trust and faith in the man who will represent Tibet in this crucial time in our history.
With this said, I fully believe all three candidates are patriots who have served our cause in many different ways. I respect them immensely for running in this very difficult campaign and know that they will all continue to use their talents to serve our country. Once the elections are over, regardless of who wins, that’s when the real work begins and then we will all be behind him.
Editors' Note: As always, publication of any article does not necessarily imply endorsement by the Editors.