Exile Tibetans Vote

Opposition from Nepal mars the election of a new Tibetan exile government.

monksvoting-305 Tibetan monks carrying green books line up to cast their votes at the main Tsuglag Khang temple in Dharamsala, India, on March 20, 2011.

Thousands of Tibetans across more than a dozen countries voted on Sunday to choose a new prime minister and parliament in exile, but the election was marred by China-ally Nepal's refusal to allow voting in the country.

Over 83,000 Tibetans in India, North America, Europe, Japan, Taiwan, and Australia cast ballots for a Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, and members of parliament, based in India's hill town of Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile.

But around 20,000 Tibetan exiles in Nepal were not allowed to vote.

Nepali authorities said they were worried that any voting by the exiles might displease their powerful northern neighbor China.

The Tibetan exile government was told by higher authorities in Nepal "that the election is related to Nepal’s foreign policy and would be harmful to the interests of a neighboring country, so it would be absolutely not permissible," said Thinlay Gyatso, the exile government’s Nepal representative.

Last year, during the preliminary round of elections for the kalon tripa in Nepal's capital Kathmandu, police in riot gear stormed into three election centers in the capital Kathmandu and carted away the ballot boxes.

"The mood of optimism across the diaspora was marred by the news that ... Tibetans in Nepal did not get permission to vote today from the Nepalese authorities in Kathmandu, under increasing pressure from the Chinese government," said the International Campaign for Tibet, an advocacy group based in Washington.

Tibetans vote at at the Tsuglag Khang temple in Dharamsala, India, March 20, 2011.

Elections worldwide

The voter turnout elsewhere Sunday was higher than in previous years, as Tibetans considered the future of their government in exile with less leadership from the Dalai Lama.

The 75-year-old Nobel laureate, who fled to India after a failed 1959 national uprising against Chinese occupation, has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan struggle for more than five decades.

“When we look at our own people, [we see] Tibetans have taken much more interest now than in the past in this election. For instance, the numbers of voters has increased from 44.26 percent in the preliminary election to 60.67 percent in this formal election,” Chief Election Commissioner Jampal Choesang said.

The new Kalon Tripa, who will be announced on April 27, is expected to assume greater powers and prominence under the Dalai Lama’s plan to relinquish political power.

Dalai Lama’s resignation

The Dalai Lama announced on March 10 that he would hand over political power to a newly elected leader and has rejected a plea by a majority of parliamentarians to reconsider his decision.

Many of the six million Tibetans inside Chinese-ruled Tibet as well as those outside are concerned that their struggle for greater autonomy for the Himalayan region will suffer without the Dalai Lama's political leadership.

“Whoever becomes Kalon Tripa and whoever the deputies, a huge responsibility falls on their shoulders; many people are seriously concerned,” activist Tenzin Tsondue in Dharamsala said.

“I went to cast my vote this morning where I saw many, many Tibetans line up to cast their vote. But I noticed a sense of concern on their faces and mellowed mood. I too felt a serious sense of concern, especially after His Holiness the Dalai Lama stood firm on his decision to retire from Tibetan leadership in favor of elected leadership,” he said.

Kalon Tripa candidate Lobsang Sangay casts his ballot at the election center at the Tsuglag Khang temple in Dharamsala, India, March 20, 2011.

Kalon Tripa

The lead candidate in the contest is Lobsang Sangay, a 43-year-old research scholar at Harvard Law School, who received nearly 50 percent of the votes in October’s preliminary polls.

The other candidates are Tashi Wangdi, the Dalai Lama’s current representative to Western Europe and the EU, and Tenzin Tethong, a professor of Tibetan studies at Stanford University and formerly appointed Kalon Tripa.

Since 2001, the members of parliament and Kalon Tripa have been directly elected by the Tibetan community in exile.

The exile government issues “green books” to the Tibetans living outside Tibet to allow them to register for the elections.  The books are also used for school admission and scholarships, for employment within the exile community, and for making contributions or “voluntary taxes” to the government.

A total of over 83,000 Tibetans were registered to vote this year, up from almost 73,000 in the previous election in 2006.

"If we don’t cast our vote, it is as if we are not Tibetan and would show we are not taking collective responsibility for Tibet,” said a voter after casting his ballot in Bylakuppe, India.

Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Benpa Topgyal and written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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