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Tibet: OutLook Opinions and Columns What Does the Future Hold for Tibetan Democracy?

What Does the Future Hold for Tibetan Democracy?

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01may2011005London: - Since it's formation in 1959 the Tibetan Government in Exile has been taking small aided steps towards a Westernised definition of democracy. It has even taken some momentous steps such as the creation of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission in the 1990's and the establishment of the Kalon Tripa role in the early 2000's however, these were all done under the supreme leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Now the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE) must take its first steps alone and when Lobsang Sangay is officially inaugurated as Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) later this year accompanied with a new official charter relinquishing His Holiness of his political supremacy they will no longer have him to rely upon.

The governmental charter as it stands places the Dalai Lama at the pinnacle of political power, "His Holiness is head of the nation, and also head of administration, the executive. And whatever executive actions are implemented, all of these are done in the name of His Holiness." Many Tibetans living inside occupied Tibet and all over the world have been resistant to the retirement of His Holiness from political power, including those within the Tibetan Parliament whose role it is to further the democratic movement. Many have asked why now or why at all. His Holiness has been the leading voice in the change to a democratic rather than autocratic political system and the change now is to ensure that the change continues. In His Holiness' speech to the Tibetan Parliament the day following his announcement of political retirement echoes this sentiment, "if we are to implement such a system from this time onwards, I will still be able to help resolve problems is called upon to do so. But, if the implementation of such a system is delayed and a day comes when my leadership is suddenly unavailable, the consequent uncertainty might present an overwhelming challenge".

It is not only for the furthering of the Tibetan democratic movement that His Holiness has made such a monumental decision but also to shield the title of Dalai Lama from external manipulation. Following his death even if China creates its own 15th Dalai Lama, Tibetans will have a democratically elected leader they can look to beyond the Chinese governmental control, who will be removed from Chinese religious manipulation. The handover of power could also stave off a possible crisis of leadership in the Tibetan in Exile community in the event of the Dalai Lama's death.

Additionally a clearly labelled political leader, separate from the religious aspects will ensure that world leaders can no longer avoid public political discussions about Tibet. Until now, with the Dalai Lama holding both political and religious leadership, world leaders have been able to meet with the Dalai Lama in his religious capacity, avoiding the political issues. Now world leaders will come under increased pressure from Tibetans all around the world and the Tibet supporter community to meet with the elected Tibetan leader on a solely political basis.

It will be hard to create a clear split of the religious and political aspects of Tibetan life much like that of Western cultures specifically because religion still plays a ruling part in Tibetan life. Mahatma Gandhi once said, "those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is" this sentiment rings true in the case of Tibetan politics because despite the Dalai Lama's retirement he will still be held in the highest esteem because of his religious leadership.

There are however, large obstacles Lobsang Sangay must overcome following his inauguration in August. From talking to Tibetans in Dharamshala and around the world, Lobsang's main qualities that resulted in them voting for him were his age and his educational background rather than his political expertise. Tenzin, a 21-year-old monk originally from Lhasa spoke to me following the election, "We now have our own Barack Obama". This sentiment of hope has been banded around frequently by the younger generations (who he is highly popular with) but with little political experience it is yet to be seen what sort of a leader Lobsang will be. Primarily his obstacle will be that he has been elected head of a government, which no country officially recognises and away from the spotlight of His Holiness he must assert the Tibetan Government's international importance.

However, this election is a highly significant step in a process of strengthening the political institute of Tibetans in Exile internationally, through the vast developments in democracy and the creation of a clear split in the secular and the religious. Additionally the election of Lobsang Sangay, with his extensive knowledge of international law, democratic constitutionalism, conflict resolution and Chinese politics will add serious clout to Tibetan Government in Exile's international credibility.

His role will not only be Kalon Tripa but the face of the Tibet campaign following the death of His Holiness. He is going to face the near impossible task of emanating the popularity of His Holiness worldwide, however, Lobsang does not usher in a complete change in the policies that His Holiness upheld. Policies such as the ‘Middle Way Approach', which accepts Tibet within the framework of the Constitution of the Chinese Government, but seeks out a strong and genuine right to self-government (autonomy) for all the Tibetan nationalities within China.

"I am assuming leadership responsibility against the backdrop of His Holiness' magnanimous decision to devolve political authority to elected leaders. In contrast to the Jasmine revolution where people are giving up their lives to secure democracy, His Holiness' gesture demonstrates his faith in the Tibetan people. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is my inspiration and I will seek to achieve the ambitious objectives he has set for us," Lobsang said in his acceptance message.

As the Tibetan people take a leap into the democratic darkness, one thing is certain, internationally Tibet will never be seen the same again.

 


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