DHARAMSALA, India, March 20 – Exiled Tibetans across India and overseas started voting on Sunday to elect a political leader for the next five years, in a bid to help sustain their struggle to secure complete autonomy for Chinese-ruled Tibet.
Men and women in colorful dresses formed long queues outside temporary polling booths in a Buddhist temple in Dharamsala, a town in India’s Himalayan foothills where a community of Tibetans lives in exile with the Dalai Lama.
The second such election follows a decision by the Dalai Lama, the 80-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate, to relinquish his political authority and vest it in a democratic system that could outlast him.
China does not recognize the government that represents more than 100,000 exiled Tibetans living mainly in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Concern about the spiritual leader’s health, after his admission to a U.S. hospital this year for treatment, has reinforced the importance of the vote to keeping the issue of Tibet alive.
The “Sikyong”, or elected leader, will be solely responsible for political and diplomatic decisions, as the charismatic monk steps back from the limelight amid uncertainty over how his successor will be chosen.
Tibetan Buddhism holds that the soul of a senior lama is reincarnated in the body of a child after he dies. China says it must sign off on the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising.
The contest will decide who leads the parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala.
Exiled Tibetans consider the CTA to be their legitimate government, but no country recognizes it. China has lobbied to sideline the Dalai Lama from the international circuit, although he did address an audience in Geneva last week despite those efforts.