Two Candidates Now Front-Runners in Final Vote for Tibet’s Exile Leader

2021-01-15
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Two Candidates Now Front-Runners in Final Vote for Tibet’s Exile Leader Front-runners for Tibet's next exile leader Penpa Tsering (left) and Aukatsang Kelsang Dorjee (right) are shown in undated photos.
RFA

Two candidates have now emerged as finalists in a first round of voting by Tibetans living outside their China-ruled homeland for leader, or Sikyong, of Tibet’s Dharamsala, India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration, RFA has learned.

Thousands of Tibetans around the world took part in the preliminary round of voting on Jan. 3, with counting of the votes beginning on Jan. 5 and expected to end by Jan. 12. A second round of voting on April 11 will decide the winner along with members of the 17th parliament in exile.

Preliminary vote counts confirmed by RFA show former speaker of Tibet’s exile parliament Penpa Tsering in first place with 23,687 votes, followed by Aukatsang Kelsang Dorjee, former representative of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, with 13,754 votes.

Gyari Dolma, former CTA home minister and the first woman to run for the office of Sikyong, came third in the race with 13,126 votes, and Drongchung Ngodup, representative of the Dalai Lama in the Indian capital New Delhi, came fourth with votes totaling 9,742.

Results of the preliminary round of voting will be officially announced on Feb. 8 by the CTA Election Commission, which says that the two candidates with the highest number of votes will move on to the second round on April 11, with final results announced on May 14.

Formed in 1959, the Central Tibetan Administration has executive, judiciary, and legislative branches, with candidates for the office of Sikyong, or president, elected since 2011 by popular vote.

Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained scholar of law, has now served two consecutive five-year terms as Sikyong and will leave that post when his present term expires in May 2021.

The Tibetan diaspora is estimated to include about 150,000 people living in 40 countries, mainly India, Nepal. North America, and in Europe. Among these, 82,818 registered to vote in the 2011 election, of whom 48,482 voted, and 90,877 registered for the election in 2016, of whom 59,853 turned out to vote.

A formerly independent nation

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in in India and other countries around the world.

Divisions persist in the Tibetan exile community over how best to advance the rights and freedoms of Tibetans living in China, with some calling for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.

The CTA and Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama have instead adopted a policy approach called the Middle Way, which accepts Tibet’s present status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedoms, including strengthened language rights, for Tibetans living under Beijing’s rule.

Nine rounds of talks on greater autonomy in Tibetan areas of China were held between high-level Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama beginning in 2002, but stalled in 2010 and were never resumed.

US, Dalai Lama share concerns

The Dalai Lama and the U.S. State Department’s Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Robert Destro in a virtual meeting on Jan. 13 discussed the benefits of the Middle Way Approach and the importance of environmental issues on the Tibetan Plateau, a State Department spokesperson told RFA on Thursday.

“They also discussed the need to preserve Tibetan knowledge, including Tibetans’ unique linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions,” the State Department said, adding that the United States shares international concern over increasing human rights abuses in Tibet.

These include "coercive labor practices, and the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) declared intention to “Sinicize” Tibetan Buddhism and to interfere in the succession of spiritual leaders,” the State Department said.

“The United States is particularly concerned the CCP may attempt to appoint its own Dalai Lama."

“Tibetan Buddhists wherever they reside should be allowed to select, educate, and venerate the future Dalai Lama and other religious leaders without PRC officials' interference," the State Department said.

Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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