WASHINGTON, June 15, 2001 - Ending weeks of suspense, the top contender in unprecedented polls to elect a new Tibetan exile government told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that he will run for prime minister when Tibetans around the world cast their votes July 29. Samdhong Rimpoche said in an interview broadcast Friday that he "didn't dream the people would nominate me with such an overwhelming majority." Samdhong Rimpoche, a former chairman of the Tibetan exile parliament and an advocate of Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance to Chinese rule in Tibet, won some 31,000 of 60,000 nominations cast May 12 for prime minister of a new exile government. Four others drew fewer than 4,000 nominations each. Among the estimated 130,000 Tibetans living in exile, anyone aged 18 or over may cast a nomination or vote through local polling stations set up by Tibetan communities worldwide. "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," Samdhong Rimpoche said, speaking by telephone from India in the Uke Tibetan dialect. Standing down from the election, he said - the first of its kind among exiled Tibetans - "would also go against the wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama," Tibet's exiled spiritual leader. "I thought very hard, discussed with my close friends, sought direction from great lamas and deities. Much against my own wish and choice, I have decided to accept the people's nomination and participate in the election - whatever the consequences of that decision may be," he added. Samdhong Rimpoche 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. If elected prime minister, Samdhong Rimpoche will name his own cabinet 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. 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 all previous Tibetan governments in exile have been based since then in Dharamsala. Samdhong Rimpoche's full interview with RFA can be heard on the World Wide Web at www.rfa.org.