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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan polls a money-spinning affair

March 19, 2011

2011-03-15 09:50:00

Dharamsala, March 15 (IANS) With posters, pamphlets and other trappings of a regular campaign, the election for the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile here is turning out to be a big, money-spinning affair. And a worried leadership is wondering how to curtail expenses and keep it low profile.

With Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama announcing his intention to retire from his political responsibilities and urging parliament to go for direct elections for the political leader's post, the polls scheduled for March 20 have become significant.

'This time, many posters have been pasted and pamphlets have been distributed by the three candidates. They are also holding one-to-one meetings with the people of the community and are personally visiting their homes,' said Samdhong Rinpoche, incumbent prime minister (Kalon Tripa) of the Tibetan government-in-exile here.

'The candidates say the money is being spent by their friends and supporters. From what we see this year we feel there should be some regulation or tab on the expenditure during the campaigns,' Rinpoche told IANS.

Rinpoche said he was surprised by the unusual 'pomp and show which has not happened earlier'.

'This is obviously not a very healthy thing for a refugee community.'

Rinpoche, who will be completing his second term as prime minister in May, has enjoyed full confidence of the Dalai Lama during his tenure. He has been a powerful political figure in Tibetan establishment living in exile in India.

Members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile are perplexed over the unprecedented excitement among candidates and the amount of money being used in the campaigns. They are now contemplating whether to introduce some kind of regulation to limit poll expenditure.

Karma Yeshi, a member of the parliament-in-exile, said: 'I strongly feel that money should not play any role in the elections for the top posts of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Candidates should be chosen on the basis of their ideologies and principles and not on their money power.'

He added: 'We should understand that we are living here as refugees and therefore our elections should be a very low profile affair. We should be very careful in all our activities.'

'Though there is a provision that the election campaigning should be stopped two days before the actual polling, there is no limit on the expenditure made by the candidates during the election,' Penpa Tsering, speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, told IANS.

He added: 'This is an important issue and it needs to be discussed in parliament. Hopefully, we will introduce some regulation to limit the expenditure during the campaigning.'

The parliament-in-exile has so far been saying that there was no one to equal the Dalai Lama as a replacement. However, the Dalai Lama has insisted that any more delay could raise challenges in the future.

Three candidates are in the fray for the top post - Lobsang Sangay, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Tashi Wangdi.

All the three candidates are highly educated and good orators.

Lobsang Sangay is a senior fellow at Harvard Law School in the US, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong a respected scholar who teaches at Stanford in the US, and the third candidate, Tashi Wangdi, was the Dalai Lama's representative in Brussels, New York and New Delhi. He was educated in India and in Britain.

Rinpoche said: 'All three candidates raise similar issues and offer similar promises as all of them follow the middle path approach suggested by His Holiness. So these elections are only the choice of personalities and not of policies.'

Voters are also feeling the change in the campaigning.

'This year I am going to cast my vote for the third time. This time things are totally different from the previous elections that were held in 2001 and 2006. Candidates have become very aggressive, spending money and are frequently travelling to get public support,' Norzin Norbu, a Tibetan refugee here, told IANS.

Earlier elections used to be a very personal affair, she said.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Over 100,000 Tibetans live in exile in India. The Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. There are approximately 85,000 registered Tibetan voters living in exile in India.

Around 45,000 to 50,000 exiles are expected to cast their votes March 20. The results are likely to come out April 25.

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