Tibetan leaders struggle to speak for split populace
The government in exile is popular but faces pressure from moderates and radicals.
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But the government-in-exile's support for the Dalai Lama's "Middle Path" of dialogue and reconciliation with China is well known. Among refugees, it is the parliament's most controversial position.Skip to next paragraph
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In the dim light of a diner, Mr. Dorjee speaks with the conviction of a revolutionary. The uprising in Tibet is evidence that Tibet wants freedom. "The Tibetan freedom struggle is very sensitive," he says. "But if [the government-in-exile] never listens to what people are saying, there is no use of having a parliament."
Members of parliament argue that they are listening to the people – and the people support whatever the Dalai Lama says.
'Work as [if] there is no Dalai Lama'
To some degree, the Dalai Lama is trying to wean Tibetans off this reliance, repeatedly expressing his desire to "retire" from his political duties. Making the government-in-exile more robust is key to making the Tibetan exile movement sustainable beyond one man. "He always says, 'You should work as though there is no Dalai Lama,' " says Jungney.
To this end, the Dalai Lama has been the architect of his government's democratic reforms. In 1989, he disbanded the parliament, commanding a new one to be formed under a democratic charter. Among other powers, the charter gives parliament the ability to impeach the Dalai Lama as the head of state.
That parliament would ever use this power, however, is unthinkable. Many Tibetans have resisted democratic reform, preferring his leadership. In local communities, many posts meant to be determined by elections remain unfilled, with locals asking the Dalai Lama to send someone instead. "People always think, 'We don't want democracy. We can depend on the goodness of His Holiness,' " says Tashi Phuntsok, the CTA's chief election commissioner.
Yet on the streets of Dharamsala, there is appreciation for the Dalai Lama's reforms. Amid his store of tourist kitsch, shop owner Tenzing Tsering takes pride in drawing a distinction between his government and China's. "In China, [Tibetans] don't have the right to speak even a single word against the government," he says.
Members of the Tibetan Youth Congress agree. "Even if our objectives are different, they will not stop us," says cultural secretary Lhakpa Tsering. Even executive member Dorjee does not dismiss the government-in-exile. When it comes to caring for the needs of the Tibetan refugee community, Dorjee says, "I will give it 100 out of 100 on that ground."
India has given the government-in-exile broad autonomy to rule Tibetan refugees here. The CTA's Department of Education creates its own curriculum. It administers 80 schools in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Another six departments here handle everything from public health to elections for the 43-member parliament, which are held every five years in the subcontinent, Europe, and North America.
Still, Dorjee outlines the challenges ahead, as upheaval in Tibet and a new generation of refugees create pressure for new policies. "The people inside Tibet have raised their voice, and many in parliament wish for independence, too, but they will not speak out for it because it goes against the Dalai Lama," he says. "[But] they must listen to their hearts."