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Tibetan community get new political leader

A Harvard legal scholar has been elected as the next prime minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile, following the relinquishing of political power by the Dalai Lama.

Lobsang Sengey
Lobsang Sengey
Image: AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia

A HARVARD LEGAL scholar has been elected the next prime minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile, officials announced today, paving the way for new leadership in the Tibetan community as the Dalai Lama gives up political power.

Lobsang Sangay, 43, a lawyer and scholar who has spent years studying international law and conflict resolution, won with 55 per cent of the votes cast by tens of thousands of Tibetans around the world, chief election commissioner Jamphel Choesang said in the north Indian town of Dharmsala, where the exile government is based.

He praised the Dalai Lama for handing over political power and vowed to continue Tibet’s struggle for autonomy.

“I hope, one, to keep the Tibet issue alive and so that the sacrifices made inside Tibet and the ongoing suffering of Tibetans will not be forgotten by the world,” he said.

While the government-in-exile has existed for decades, it has long been seen as a powerless reflection of the wishes of the Dalai Lama, the exiled 75-year-old Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader worshipped as a near-deity by many followers.

However, earlier this year the Dalai Lama announced he would give up his political role, saying it was time for elected leadership in the Tibetan community. The political change, yet to be written into the community’s constitution, reverses centuries of tradition in which the Dalai Lama was also the region’s political leader.

While it remains unclear if an elected leader will be able to step out of the Dalai Lama’s immense shadow, the shift is widely seen as a way to prepare for the spiritual leader’s eventual death, and to show Beijing that exile leaders will continue to wield influence.

The message “is that the Tibetan struggle is clearly a Tibetan people’s struggle,” government spokesman Thupten Samphel said after Sangay’s victory was announced. “This is a wake-up call for China.”

In many ways, Sangay’s election is really about the Dalai Lama’s age and worries over his succession. A man of immense personal charisma, whose followers range from the Tibetan plateau to the mansions of Hollywood, he is seen in many world capitals as the personification of the Tibetan struggle. His death, many Tibetans believe, could leave the community adrift.

While the Dalai Lama is believed to be in fairly good health, he openly admits that his death has become a major political concern.

Many observers believe his death will lead to rival Dalai Lamas — one appointed by Beijing, which rules Tibet, and one by senior monks loyal to the current Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace laureate, has also suggested that negotiations with Beijing — which has vilified him for his vocal resistance to China’s rule over Tibet — would be less complicated under another Tibetan figurehead.

- AP

Read more: Dalai Lama says he will give up his political role in Tibet >

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