As Tibetans around the world voted Sunday in the first round of elections to choose a new government-in-exile, candidates were debating how to carry on their campaign to free their Himalayan homeland from Chinese rule. Hundreds of Tibetans, including monks and nuns wearing wine-colored robes, lined up behind voting kiosks in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala, where the exiled government is based. One by one, they wrote the names of their favorite candidates on pieces of paper and slid them into green ballot boxes. It’s just the second time Tibetans are voting since the Dalai Lama stepped down as head of the government-in-exile in 2011 to focus on his role as Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader. “He wants us to stand on our own feet and decide about the future of Tibet,” said Tsering Tsomo, who heads the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Dharmsala. Tsering Tsomo noted that Tibetan democracy was still developing. “We have the institution, but not the culture,” she said.
The Tibetan community — comprising some 130,000 people spread across communities from Minnesota and Norway to Nepal and Taiwan — thrust itself onto the international stage and consciousness after the Dalai Lama fled Chinese occupation in 1959 and settled in exile in India. Rallying behind a charismatic leader and the single cause of freeing Tibet, the community proved a major irritant to Beijing.
But exiled Tibetans have struggled in recent years to maintain a cohesive political voice, while seeing China’s diplomatic and economic clout grow.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, incumbent Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay was frank in acknowledging that little progress has been made. The last round of talks between envoys of China and the Dalai Lama was in 2010, 25 years after the Dalai Lama proposed Tibetans give up on independence and instead seek a “middle way” — regional autonomy under China through peaceful dialogue.