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Tibetan exiles elect Harvard lawyer to take over Dalai Lama's political role

A Harvard fellow was elected head of Tibet's government-in-exile on Wednesday, and is slated to take over the Dalai Lama's political role this summer.

By Saransh SehgalContributor / April 27, 2011

Lobsang Sangay, the new Kalon Tripa, or Tibetan prime minister-in-exile, poses in front of a scroll painting at the International Campaign for Tibet building in Washington April 27.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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Dharamsala, India

A young Harvard scholar was today elected prime minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile and is expected to take over the Dalai Lama's political duties this summer, signaling a new generation of leadership and the community's desire for a more hardline approach to China.

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Lobsang Sangay beat out his two rival candidates with 55 percent of the vote in the March 20 election, officials announced Wednesday in Dharamsala, the de facto capital of Tibetan exiles. About 59 percent of some eligible 89,000 voters spread over 30 countries cast a ballot.

“I urge every Tibetan and friends of Tibet to join me in our common cause to alleviate the suffering of Tibetans in occupied Tibet and to return His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] to his rightful place in the Potala Palace," Dr. Sangay said in a statement on the exile government's website.

The Dalai Lama announced earlier this year that he would give up his political role, saying it was time for elected leadership in the Tibetan community. While China dismissed the announcement as a “trick," the election of a new prime minister shows the seriousness of the Dalai Lama's intent to hand over his political responsibilities to a new generation. The spiritual leader of Tibet has handled all political matters since 1959, when he fled to India and established a government-in-exile in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala.

“A new generation born in exile has been elected for the Kalon Tripa [prime minister],” says Samphel Thupten, a spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile. "It indicates that democracy has taken firm roots in us. These democratic structures will hold our community together for years to come."

Face of a younger generation

Though the Dalai Lama is seen as a near-deity by many followers who would have liked to see him maintain political power, observers say it was time for a transition. “This was not necessarily a welcome change but an inevitable change,” said Penpa Tsering, speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in exile.

Dr. Sangay, 43, represents the face of the younger generation of Tibetans who are eager to see him make some leeway on Tibet’s independence from China. Exiles expect him to push more vigorously for greater autonomy of Tibet, in contrast to the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” policy that has frustrated a younger generation of exiles and in many eyes failed to produce results.

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