Candidates Support Dalai Lama's Role

Ahead of March elections, candidates debate a future Tibetan government-in-exile without the Dalai Lama’s leadership.
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Lobsang Sangay, March 3, 2011.
Lobsang Sangay, March 3, 2011.
Candidates vying to take over political power from the Dalai Lama have emphasized that they want him to remain the driving force for gaining greater autonomy within China, backing his “Middle Way” approach in a debate on Sunday.

The three candidates will face off in an election on March 20 to become the kalon tripa, or prime minister, in the Tibetan government-in-exile based in the northern hill town of Dharamsala, India. 

The new kalon tripa may occupy a greater role in Tibetan exile politics following a statement by the 75-year-old Dalai Lama on Thursday that he wants to relinquish his role as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile to an elected leader.

The Dalai Lama also said he would ask the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, which meets this week, to change its constitution to reflect his wish to hand over authority to the elected leader, a request some say the parliament is unlikely to accept.

“The Dalai Lama’s decision to transfer authority to an elected Tibetan leadership naturally comes to me with a serious concern,” said Lobsang Sangay, one of the three final kalon tripa candidates and a research scholar at Harvard Law School.

“I support 100 percent that a collective appeal must be made to ask His Holiness to continue to hold leadership of the Tibetan people,” he said in a live debate among the trio on radio, satellite television, and the Internet broadcast from Washington and India.

The other candidates are Tashi Wangdi, a former representative of the Dalai Lama to North America and to Europe, and Tenzin Tethong, a professor of Tibetan studies at Stanford University and formerly appointed kalon tripa.

Tenzin Tethong said the Dalai Lama’s leadership is critical.

“Whether the Dalai Lama can continue to hold leadership of the Tibetans in exile, he must continue to hold leadership of the Tibetan movement. I’m of the view that Tibetans must strongly urge him to continue to lead the Tibetan people as a whole,” he said.

Tenzin Tethong, March 3, 2011.
Tenzin Tethong, March 3, 2011. RFA

Proposal to retire

The Dalai Lama had previously expressed his wish to give up political power, but Thursday’s announcement was viewed as his most insistent and formal statement of that intention.

It raised questions on what role the Dalai Lama, who has been the spiritual and political leader of Tibetans since 1959, will play in the government-in-exile, as many fear the Tibetan cause may suffer without his leadership.

Tashi Wangdi said, “Judging from Dalai Lama’s March 10 statement, it seems His Holiness’s decision is decisive."

“He has spoken about it in the past on several occasions.”

Tashi Wangdi said he would not second-guess any decision by the parliament on the Dalai Lama’s stand.

“I would say the members of the current 14th Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies will take up the issue. But before the Assembly discusses and I am able to understand the whole issue, I am not able to say what position I would take on it.”

The Dalai Lama is expected open the parliament session on Monday with a proposal to amend the constitution to allow him to retire.

The parliament will then decide whether to accept the amendment. It could, however, leave the decision to the next parliament, to be elected on March 20.

Tibetans in exile selected the three final candidates for kalon tripa after a preliminary vote in October.

The incumbent, Samdhong Rinpoche, is stepping down after serving the two five-year terms allowed to him under the exile community’s election law.

The final vote on March 20 will be the climax of a decade of direct democratic elections to select the kalon tripa. Previously, the holders of the post were handpicked by the Dalai Lama.

Tashi Wangdi, March 3, 2011.
Tashi Wangdi, March 3, 2011. RFA

“Middle Way” Approach

In the debate Sunday, the candidates also expressed continued support for the “Middle Way” approach to seeking greater autonomy for Tibet from China while allowing for continued Chinese national sovereignty.

Tashi Wangdi said he supports the Middle Way approach as a means of dialogue with China and maintaining foreign support for the Tibetan cause.

“If we look at it from a wide angle, the Middle Way is the direct way of dealing with Chinese authorities. At the global level, it is the basis for seeking support.

“It is the main way to resolve the Tibet issue, to seek improvement of human rights inside Tibet, and to further international concern to solve the Tibet problem. This policy is the best way to seek international pressure on the government of China as well as to seek Chinese people’s pressure on their government.”

Tenzin Tethong expressed support for the policy as a realistic approach.

“The Tibetan government-in-exile’s way of resolving the Tibet issue is the Middle Way approach. It’s also clear that it is the basis through which Tibetans and Chinese solve the issue through understanding and friendship.”

Nine rounds of talks have been held so far between the Chinese and Tibetan delegates on the issue of greater autonomy, but there has been no breakthrough.

“So far, nine delegations have been to China, and the Tibet issue truly has been elevated at the global level. However, the Chinese side has refused to accept the Tibetan stand," Tenzin Tethong said.

"So, realistically speaking, a solution to the Tibet issue will continue on mutual understanding between Tibetans and Chinese based on the Middle Way Approach."

The Dalai Lama has called for “meaningful autonomy” rather than independence for Tibet.

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





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