Dharamsala: The exiled Dalai Lama said on Thursday he planned to formally step down as political leader in a widely anticipated move seen as modernising the Tibetan government-in-exile in the face of Chinese pressure.
The 76-year-old Dalai Lama has long seen himself as “semi-retired” from political leadership with an elected prime minister already in place in Dharamsala. The Dalai Lama remains Tibet’s spiritual leader.
But the formal move, which still needs to be ratified by the parliament-in-exile based in India on Monday next week, should give a new prime minister to be elected this month greater clout on the world stage as they seek Tibetan autonomy from Beijing.
“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power,” the Dalai Lama said in his annual speech marking 52 years since he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese.
“Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.”
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, now lives in exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala and advocates “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet within China.
The Tibetan government-in-exile prime minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, told reporters on Thursday that it was not clear if the parliament would accept the resignation and warned of a constitutional deadlock.
Beijing regards the Lama as a dangerous separatist responsible for stirring up unrest in Tibet. On Monday, it further piled pressure on him by insisting that he has no right to choose his successor, but must follow the historical and religious tradition of reincarnation.
“His whole plan has been to create an institution, a government which could run without a Dalai Lama, a more political one,” said Bhaskar Roy, a political analyst and China expert.
“There may be a long gap to a successor… It is a protective measure, for fear of Beijing making inroads into Tibet’s political life.”
The Dalai Lama’s announcement also comes as the three main contenders for the new prime minister, to be elected later in March, are all secular, and not monks, adding to a sense of further modernisation of the exiled movement.
“I think there is a sort of modernity and democracy being injected into the movement,” said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, a pro-Tibetan group.