DARMSALA, India (AFP) – Hundreds of Tibetans in exile faced rain and hail on Sunday in the northern Indian city of Darmsala, the seat of the exiled government, and voted for their new political leader as the current five-year term nears its end.
Voters wore masks, maintained social distancing, and used hand sanitisers while casting their votes during the first round of elections. Many elderly voters helped fill out the correct forms.
In this first stage of voting, two candidates for the post of Prime Minister will be selected, including 90 parliamentarians. The second and final round of voting will take place in April.
With this, we are sending a clear message to Beijing that Tibet is under occupation, but Tibetans in exile are free. Lobsang Sanjay, who will soon end his second and final term as political leader in Tibet, said if we had the opportunity, we would prefer democracy. « Whatever you do, Tibetans ‘pride, and Tibetans’ feeling, is to be democrat and practice democracy. »
The Tibetan government-in-exile was formed in 1959 – now called the Central Tibetan Administration – and has executive, judicial and legislative branches, with candidates for the position of Seqyung, or president, who has been elected since 2011 by popular vote.
China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and that its Communist Party has ruled the Himalayas since 1951. But many Tibetans say they have been effectively independent for most of their history, and that the Chinese government wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity. .
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the exiled Tibetans, and his followers have lived in Darmsala since they fled Tibet after the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.
Many young Tibetans are running for parliament this year. As the Dalai Lama gets older, there is a growing realization among Tibetan youth that they should increase their participation in government.
« As someone who has studied technology, I think I can try to make parliamentary communications more secure and fill in the gaps in the information database, » said Lobsang Seether, 38, who is running in the current election.
Sither said that previous governments have focused too much on the Tibetan diaspora and not enough on Tibetans within Tibet.
« This must change. Unless we have reliable information about the situation inside Tibet, we cannot formulate policies to help Tibetans there. »
China does not recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile, and there has been no dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010. India considers Tibet a part of China, even though it hosts Tibetan exiles.
Some Tibetan groups are calling for the independence of Tibet, as little progress has been made in dialogue with China.
This story was corrected to show that Lobsang Sither is 38 years old, not 48 years old.