Tibetans-in-exile vote for a new political leader

Tibetan monks cast their vote during the election for the government-in-exile at a polling booth in Dharamsala on Sunday.  

Thousands of Tibetans-in-exile around the world voted for a new Parliament as well as for their choice of ‘Sikyong’ (term for the so-called Prime Minister-in-exile) on Sunday, with more than 90,000 eligible to vote, a majority of them in India.

Final results for the 45 parliamentary seats are expected by April 27th, while the Sikyong results may be in by mid-April, as votes are collated from U.S., South America, Europe and other regions.

Vote for a ‘Sikyong’

The Sikyong post itself isn’t recognised officially by any country, but is part of the self-styled Central Tibetan Administration that looks after the welfare of lakhs of Tibetan refugees.

The current Sikyong, the Harvard-educated Dr. Lobsang Sangay is hoping to be re-elected for another five-year term, but is pitted against the Speaker of the current Parliament Penpa Tsering.

However, the challenges involved in winning the election for the post of Sikyong are small compared to those he will face once he is elected. “The major challenge is one of time,” says Dr. Tshering Chonzom Bhutia, a Tibetan-in-exile who works at the Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies.

Secondly, the community of Tibetan exiles, particularly in India are growing more restive about their future. On February 29, 16-year-old Dorjee Tsering immolated himself in Dehradun, an unprecedented act, as such cases ha occurred mostly inside Tibet to protest Chinese control.

“This was the first time that a teenager who has never even been to Tibet, committed self-immolation in protest,” Dr. Sangay had told The Hindu at the time, indicating the new worries in the community. Some exiles also feel that it may be easier if the CTA encourages the next generation to pursue Indian citizenships instead of living as refugees so they have better opportunities to study and work, Ms. Tsering explained.

With the Dalai Lama giving up his political role to the CTA in 2011, rifts have also grown on what the future of the Tibetan movement should be.

The middle way

While both Dr. Sangay and his rival Penpa Tsering adhere to the ‘middle way’ ( Umaylam) advocated by the Dalai Lama, which speaks of more autonomy for Tibet within the Chinese Constitution, they faced a challenge from more radical Rangtsen or independence candidate Lukar Jam during the initial campaign. Although he was knocked out in the preliminaries, the presence of Mr. Jam in the race at all indicates a younger generation which may not be as patient with the “middle way”.

Finally the challenge is of a tougher posture by China itself, and the suspension of talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government that saw nine rounds by 2010. It remains to be seen whether the elected Sikyong would be able to restart any kind of consultation given President Xi Jinping’s more aggressive stance on Tibet.

“We remain hopeful that once Mr. Xi consolidates his position in his first term [till 2018], he will start working on ethnic issues,” Dr. Bhutia, a 35-year old, who was born in India says, adding, “But talks haven’t made any headway yet, and not everyone feels the wait will pay off.”

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 10:25:10 AM |

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