Exiled Tibetans Hold First-Round Voting for New Leaders of India-Based Government

The final round of voting is scheduled for April 11.
Exiled Tibetans Hold First-Round Voting for New Leaders of India-Based Government Tibetan exiles in Dharamshala, India vote in the first round of the 2021 elections for their government in exile Jan. 3, 2021.

Tens of thousands of Tibetans in exile have voted in the first round of elections for a new political leader of their exile government in Dharamshala, India.

Voters around the world selected two candidates for Sikyong, or president of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), who will face off against each other in a final round scheduled for April 11. They also selected 90 candidates for 45 parliament seats. The election commission will announce the results on Feb. 8.

In Nepal, where Tibetan issues are sensitive, the local Tibetan community held the elections in secret on Dec. 25 and 26, but police on Dec. 27 detained five Tibetans, including an RFA reporter based in Kathmandu.

According to the online Tibetan Journal, a representative of the Human Rights Organization of Nepal said the five were detained because voting coincided with a visit from a Chinese official. They were released the same day after a representative of the organization appealed on their behalf at the police station.

“We spoke to the police station in Boudha and they agreed to release all of them around 6pm that day. But the police official warned them not to engage in any such activities not approved by Nepal,” Sangpo, a member of the organization, told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

Anticipating large crowds, a voting center in Ontario, Canada opened the polls from Friday to Monday.

“We had a very successful first round of voting process here in Ontario with the help from our volunteers. The ballot boxes will be locked and sealed under secured surveillance in our community hall. We will be counting the votes on January 5, 2021,” Tsering Wangyal, election commissioner for Ontario told RFA.

In the United States, more than 4,700 Tibetans in New York and New Jersey cast their ballots on Jan. 2 and 3.

“We have around 44 members who helped make this historic election process a success,” Lhawang Ngodup, election commissioner for the region told RFA.

“We arranged 50 voting booths on each of the two floors of our Tibetan community hall to minimize crowding and make the process swifter,” he said.

Tenzin Pasang, a resident of New York, told RFA that voting was the duty of all Tibetans.

“Elections are one of the most significant processes in a democracy. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has bestowed democracy to all Tibetans and therefore we must make the best use of it,” Pasang said.

Tsetan Dhondup, another New York resident, told RFA that changes in global politics were an important factor in the election.

“There are lots of political changes taking place in the world and also in terms of their support for Tibet. So, we must elect a deserving candidate for both the Sikyong and member of parliament,” said Dhondup.

Dawa Tsering Tekhang of Virginia said regional background was not a factor in his decision.

“Even though I am from U-tsang province, my vote went for someone from a different province. That is to say, I voted for the person who deserves to be the leader,” he said.  

A 100-year-old monk cast his ballot in Minnesota.

“I wish that all Tibetans were united,” the Venerable Gendun Kalsang told RFA.

Globally, about 80,000 exiles registered to vote in the 2021 election, 7,000 of whom reside in or near Dharamshala, but RFA estimates a lower turnout for the election’s first round.

An RFA exclusive exit poll among 907 voters in India, Europe, Canada and the U.S. showed former speaker of Tibet’s exile parliament Penpa Tsering in a commanding lead with 40 percent of the vote, followed by Gyari Dolma, former CTA home minister and the first woman to run as a candidate for Sikyong, with 20 percent. Drongchung Ngodup, the Dalai Lama’s representative in the Indian capital New Delhi, received 19.4 percent, the poll showed.

The CTA was formed in 1959 and has been electing presidents by popular vote every five years since 2011.

A total of 59,353 Tibetans voted in the 2016 election. 

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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