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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Dalai Lama cedes control in hopes of curbing Chinese control

March 20, 2011

STEPHANIE NOLEN
NEW DELHI— From Friday's Globe and Mail, Canada

Published Thursday, Mar. 10, 2011 12:22AM EST

In a canny move to dodge Beijing’s efforts to control the direction of Tibetan politics, the Dalai Lama announced Thursday that he will cede his role as political leader of Tibetans to the elected prime-minister-in-exile.

“This is a revolutionary thing that he has suggested,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a Tibet expert with Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The Chinese government has been trying to insert itself into Tibetan succession questions, he said, one factor that no doubt motivated the move. At the same time, the Dalai Lama has taken note of both the messiness in other lama succession cases, and is intent on investing as much authority as possible in an elected leader.

“He’s trying to suggest a more stable system … so that there should not be any confusion if and when he passes away – he’s watched and learned and he thinks the best way is taking the whole issue to the people.”

Prof. Kondapalli said that Beijing has repeatedly attacked the Dalai Lama as an individual, calling him a “bloodsucker” on the Tibetan people. “But the Chinese will not have scope to attack the next leader this way – he will have broad-based popular support,” he said.

The Dalai Lama, a famously genial 75-year-old monk, said he would ask next week’s session of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile to “devolve my formal authority to [an] elected leader.” He spoke at the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in the Indian mountaintop town of Dharmsala, the capital of his government-in-exile.

The leading candidate to be the next prime-minister-in-exile is a Harvard-educated legal scholar who is seen as cosmopolitan and articulate; he has a huge following among Tibetan youth.

The current exile-Tibetan governing document vests the Dalai Lamai with both the spiritual authority he inherited as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lamai, and the political authority that he took on when he emerged as a powerfully eloquent advocate of his people’s cause after fleeing Tibet over the mountains into India. However, he has long urged Tibetans to formalize a democratic political leadership. He noted Thursday that he has championed the idea since the 1960s.

But Tibetan analysts and other experts on the issue said that he and the Tibetan people face a critical hurdle. “One Tibetan told me, ‘Compared to the Dalai Lama, nobody can shine’ – and that’s the problem,” said Trine Brox, an expert on Tibet from the University of Copenhagen’s Asian studies department. “You could argue they have even left it too late, that they have not made any plan or public decision before now. Tibetans believe that the success of their struggle is dependent on the Dalai Lama, the attention and the sympathy they have received from the international community as the result of his personal charisma. They are aware that they owe him for their success – and they are afraid.”

Historically, the period between the death of one Dalai Lama and the time that his reincarnation has been “discovered” (if not identified before the previous one died) has been “dangerous,” she noted, sometimes involving a level of chaos or anarchy. When the Karmapa Lama, head of a major subschool of Tibetan Buddhism, died in 1981 without identifying a successor, it set off a bizarre and ongoing power struggle with three candidates claiming they were the next lama. At the same time, the atheist government in Beijing has insisted since 2007 that it will identify the next Dalai Lama. By moving much of the authority to lead the Tibetan struggle out of the role, the Dalai Lama checks that move on the part of the Chinese.

There are three candidates on the ballot to take over the prime ministerial role. The leader is Lobsang Sangay, an articulate legal expert who has a doctorate from Harvard University in the United States and who now teaches law there. He shares the Dalai Lama’s eloquence, and is an effective communicator of Tibetan issues to a Western audience.

But Prof. Brox noted that he does not speak for all Tibetans. “He has charisma,” she said. “But he does not know Tibetan traditions that well. Not all Tibetans see him as their representative or from their political culture – that’s his problem. It would be so difficult for him to unite Tibetans.”

The other candidates are older, less cosmopolitan and don’t have the same appeal with young Tibetans in exile. Prof. Brox also noted that it is impossible to know what Tibetans inside Tibet want in a leader, as their political views are effectively silenced by Beijing. The previous two elected prime ministers were older monks.

Tibetans all over the world will vote in the coming election. Anyone who could show a Tibetan identity card was able to register last fall, and there will be ballot boxes in key Tibetan exile communities such as Toronto, New Delhi and Kathmandu. Prof. Kondapalli said that some 65 per cent of Tibetans voted in the preliminary round and at least as many will likely vote in the final round on March 20. “The Dalai Lama sees this is a better bet, imposing confidence in the people rather than a few conservatives or a few head monks.”

The political changes make no difference to the Dalai Lama’s role as spiritual leader of Tibetans. “A political leader, leading people, is chosen or elected but his spiritual leadership is not done through election – people have great regard for His Holiness as a spiritual leader and that regard comes through his spiritual practice,” said Kalon Kesang Takla, Minister of International Relations and Information in the government-in-exile.

In his address, the Dalai Lama was at pains to emphasize he is stepping down “not because I feel disheartened,” but indicated that he understood the anxiety that this generated among Tibetans and their supporters. “I trust that gradually people will come to understand my intention, will support my decision and, accordingly, let it take effect,” he said.

Tsetan Namgyl, a professor of Tibetan Studies at the Centre for Asian Studies in Delhi, said the move permanently alters the Tibetan political landscape. “It is the end of the lama’s hegemony – now no lama will be temporal leader of Tibet – in exile or in Tibet,” he said.

Thousands of young Tibetans study in Delhi (India has been generous in sheltering Tibetan refugees) and Prof. Namgyl described an air of electrified confusion among his students as they wondered how the Tibetan landscape will now be reshaped.

In a canny move to dodge Beijing’s efforts to control the direction of Tibetan politics, the Dalai Lama announced Thursday that he will cede his role as political leader of Tibetans to the elected prime-minister-in-exile.

“This is a revolutionary thing that he has suggested,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a Tibet expert with Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The Chinese government has been trying to insert itself into Tibetan succession questions, he said, one factor that no doubt motivated the move. At the same time, the Dalai Lama has taken note of both the messiness in other lama succession cases, and is intent on investing as much authority as possible in an elected leader.

“He’s trying to suggest a more stable system … so that there should not be any confusion if and when he passes away – he’s watched and learned and he thinks the best way is taking the whole issue to the people.”

Prof. Kondapalli said that Beijing has repeatedly attacked the Dalai Lama as an individual, calling him a “bloodsucker” on the Tibetan people. “But the Chinese will not have scope to attack the next leader this way – he will have broad-based popular support,” he said.

The Dalai Lama, a famously genial 75-year-old monk, said he would ask next week’s session of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile to “devolve my formal authority to [an] elected leader.” He spoke at the 52nd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in the Indian mountaintop town of Dharmsala, the capital of his government-in-exile.

The leading candidate to be the next prime-minister-in-exile is a Harvard-educated legal scholar who is seen as cosmopolitan and articulate; he has a huge following among Tibetan youth.

The current exile-Tibetan governing document vests the Dalai Lamai with both the spiritual authority he inherited as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lamai, and the political authority that he took on when he emerged as a powerfully eloquent advocate of his people’s cause after fleeing Tibet over the mountains into India. However, he has long urged Tibetans to formalize a democratic political leadership. He noted Thursday that he has championed the idea since the 1960s.

But Tibetan analysts and other experts on the issue said that he and the Tibetan people face a critical hurdle. “One Tibetan told me, ‘Compared to the Dalai Lama, nobody can shine’ – and that’s the problem,” said Trine Brox, an expert on Tibet from the University of Copenhagen’s Asian studies department. “You could argue they have even left it too late, that they have not made any plan or public decision before now. Tibetans believe that the success of their struggle is dependent on the Dalai Lama, the attention and the sympathy they have received from the international community as the result of his personal charisma. They are aware that they owe him for their success – and they are afraid.”

Historically, the period between the death of one Dalai Lama and the time that his reincarnation has been “discovered” (if not identified before the previous one died) has been “dangerous,” she noted, sometimes involving a level of chaos or anarchy. When the Karmapa Lama, head of a major subschool of Tibetan Buddhism, died in 1981 without identifying a successor, it set off a bizarre and ongoing power struggle with three candidates claiming they were the next lama. At the same time, the atheist government in Beijing has insisted since 2007 that it will identify the next Dalai Lama. By moving much of the authority to lead the Tibetan struggle out of the role, the Dalai Lama checks that move on the part of the Chinese.

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