WASHINGTON, July 31, 2001 - In an unprecedented election, Tibetans around the world have cast ballots for a new prime minister in exile, with the likely winner expected to bring major changes to the office and possibly to the region, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. Thousands of exiled Tibetans aged 18 and older cast votes July 29 at makeshift polling stations around the world. The Election Commissioner in Dharamsala, India, is expected to announce a winner Aug. 25. "Over 60,000 people registered as voters, and there are two final candidates," Tibetan Election Commission Chairman Namgyal Dorjee said. They are Samdhong Rinpoche, a former chairman of the Tibetan exile parliament, and Juchen Thupten Namgyal, former chairman of the Tibetan government-in-exile?s Council of Ministers. The expected winner is Samdhong Rinpoche, who has advocated Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance to Chinese rule in Tibet. He won a large majority of 60,000 nominations cast May 12 for prime minister or 'Kalon Tripa' of a new exile government, ahead of four other candidates. Thupten Namgyal started his political career as camp leader of a Tibetan settlement in South India. In an interview with RFA, he said he remained in the race despite overwhelming odds because dropping out might have slowed the formation of a new government. He also downplayed the likely impact of a new, popularly elected prime minister. The new prime minister will name his own cabinet - to be confirmed by the exile parliament after it meets in full session Sept. 18 - and hold the post for five years. Previously, Tibetan prime ministers in exile were nominated by the Dalai Lama and elected by the Assembly of Tibetan Deputies. In Minnesota, more than 500 people registered to vote, said Tibetan Association of Minnesota president Thinley Oser. "Since a branch of the Tibetan Youth Organization was started here, the numbers of voters from 18 to 25 showed a significant increase," Oser said. "Tibetans (in Boston) take this election very seriously," Boston Tibetan Association president Tashi Dhondup said. RFA interviewed Tibetan voters in Switzerland, Nepal, India, and the United States. Samdhong Rinpoche has spent recent weeks in seclusion. In an interview with RFA in June, however, he described his decision to stand for election as compelled by his faith in democracy. "I have always advocated the importance of democracy. To respect the popular will is the core of democracy. Therefore, if I refuse to participate as a candidate in the election. I will be going against my beliefs and ideology," he said, speaking by telephone from India in the Uke Tibetan dialect. Samdhong Rinpoche has served as director of the Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India. He is seen as a political moderate and advocate of greater transparency and accountability among exiled Tibetan leaders. He served for 10 years as chairman of the Tibetan exile parliament, known as the Assembly of Tibetan Deputies, but this year he stepped down two months early - out of disappointment, he said, at having been unable to make the Assembly more democratic. He has called in the past for Gandhi-like resistance to Chinese rule in Tibet, notably urging ethnic Tibetans to quit posts in the Chinese-run government in Tibet, boycott Chinese businesses, stage peaceful protests, and decline to defend themselves should Chinese authorities move against them. Thousands of Tibetans have fled their Himalayan homeland, many of them to Dharamsala in northern India, since Chinese troops invaded and annexed the territory in 1950. Both the Dalai Lama and previous Tibetan governments-in-exile have been based since then in Dharamsala. RFA's full coverage of the election is available at www.rfa.org. Radio Free Asia is a private, nonprofit corporation broadcasting news and information to those countries in Asia where full, accurate, and timely news reports are unavailable. Created by Congress in 1996, RFA aims to deliver such news reports - along with opinions and commentaries - and to provide a forum for a variety of voices and opinions. RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Laotian, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest journalistic standards and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content. ####

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