Democracy is inevitable in Tibet, says outgoing political leader of exiled community

Lobsang Sangay is set to pass on the baton to his successor, who would be elected through two-stage polling
nirban Bhaumik
Last Updated : 04 January 2021, 02:01 IST
Last Updated : 04 January 2021, 02:01 IST
Last Updated : 04 January 2021, 02:01 IST
Last Updated : 04 January 2021, 02:01 IST

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As thousands of Tibetan refugees living in India and elsewhere around the world on Sunday cast votes to elect his successor, the outgoing political leader of the community, Lobsang Sangay, said that the global poll sent out a loud and clear message to China about the inevitability of democracy in Tibet.

“It sends out a message to Beijing – no matter how much you repress the Tibetan people, democracy is inevitable (in Tibet),” said Sangay, the outgoing Sikyong (President) of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGiE), which is formally known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and based in India. “It also sent a message of hope to the Tibetans in Tibet.”

Sangay himself cast his vote at the headquarters of the TGiE in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. So did thousands of others in India, the United States and other countries, participating in the preliminary round of elections. Two candidates, who will secure maximum number of votes in the primary election, will take on each other in the final round of polling on April 11 next and one of them will beat the other to take over as the political leader of the exiled Tibetans for a five-year-term till 2026.

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama has given us democracy as a gift. The elder generation (of Tibetans) has preserved it and the younger generation is practising it. It will continue to be stronger and strengthen the Tibetan freedom movement,” Sangay told the DH.

He was first elected to the top office of the TGiE in 2011 and was re-elected in 2016.

He is now set to pass on the baton to his successor, who would be elected through the two-stage polling that started on Sunday.

The polling for the primary and the final elections to the 17th Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) also took place on Sunday – simultaneously with that to elect the next Sikyong.

What has added to the significance of the polling to elect the TPiE and the Sikyong of the TGiE this year is that the democratic exercise by the exiled Tibetans recently got endorsement from the United States.

The US Congress earlier this month passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (TPSA) of 2020, acknowledging the legitimacy of both the TPiE and the TGiE, which is formally known as the Central Tibetan Administration or the CTA. The TPSA 2020, which the US President Donald Trump signed into law recently, acknowledged the CTA as the “legitimate institution reflecting the aspirations” of the Tibetan Diaspora around the world and Sikyong as its President.

Tibetans living in Tibet under the rule of the Chinese Government. Sangay, however, told DH on Sunday that the global poll to elect the next Sikyong of the TGiE and the TPiE had brought about “a moment of pride” for them too and sent out a very encouraging “message of hope” to them. “They will be very proud to see Tibetans all over the world are working shoulder to shoulder with other democratic nations.”

The Dalai Lama set up the TGiE or the CTA on April 29, 1959, just a few weeks after he arrived in India following his escape from Tibet, which had been occupied by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1950-51. He also started introducing the Tibetan refugees in India to democratic practices since 1960s. The CTA calls itself the “continuation of the government of independent Tibet”.

Beijing, however, does not recognize the elections to the Sikyong and the TPiE and repeatedly asked New Delhi to shut it down. It has been accusing Dalai Lama as well as the TGiE or the CTA of running a secessionist campaign against China. A spokesperson of the communist country’s embassy in New Delhi on Wednesday issued a statement, advising the media in India to look at the economic and social progress of Tibet Autonomous Region objectively and to do more to help China-India bilateral relations move forward instead of advocating playing ‘Tibet Card’ to meddle in internal affairs of China and further damage the bilateral relations.

New Delhi officially never acknowledged the existence of the TGiE or the CTA. But it did tacitly encourage the Dalai Lama to lead the exiled community to embrace democracy gradually – starting with electing the Parliament-in-Exile and then moving on to directly elect the leader of the TGiE. It was during the 2011 elections that Dalai Lama officially announced that he would be delegating his political powers to whoever would be elected democratically to the top office of the TGiE – a move, which was apparently aimed at avoiding a leadership vacuum and keeping the struggle against China’s rule in Tibet alive beyond the lifetime of the octogenarian monk.

China also strongly reacted when the Trump Administration in October 2020 for the first time hosted Sangay, the incumbent Sikyong (President) of the CTA, at the US State Department in Washington D.C. and thus made a subtle move to lend a degree of legitimacy to the entity based in India. Earlier, in July, the US Agency for International Development or the USAID started directly providing funds to the CTA. After Trump signed the TPSA 2020 into law on December 22, China accused the US of interfering into its internal affairs.

Published 03 January 2021, 15:44 IST

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