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.
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Observers say Sangay, who has lived in the United States for the past 15 years, likely won’t shy away from raising the issues of human rights, identity, religion, and the usage of natural resources inside Tibet.Skip to next paragraph
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He is reportedly the first Tibetan to have gained a doctorate from Harvard University, where he is currently a Fulbright Scholar and is known for planning numerous international conferences involving Chinese expatriates on issues relating to Tibet’s struggle for freedom from China.
He was a prominent member of the Tibetan Youth Congress, a radical exile group which advocates full independence for Tibet, and was its youngest ever executive member. His work with the group has raised criticism from China in the past.
In a statement today, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “The so-called Tibet government in exile is an illegal political organization established by the Dalai Lama to engage in ‘Tibet independence’ separatist activities. The world does not recognize this state whatsoever."
Tibetans celebrate Sangay's win
On the streets of Dharamsala today, Tibetans cheered upon hearing of the victory of someone they say will stand up to China and fight for Tibetan autonomy.
“Democracy… is what I came here for,” says Yonten, a young Tibetan who fled to India in 2001. “The people’s power stands, and now we have a man like His Holiness, whom China should be scared of.”
“Sangay has education," says Tenzin Choegpal, an older Tibetan who runs a shop in Dharamsala. "As a lawyer his words will be of much value and prove a good weapon to tackle the Chinese.”
Sangay faces significant hurdles. Neither China, nor any other nation, officially recognizes the Tibetan government-in-exile. And the Dalai Lama has played such an important political role for so long, with a name that alone commands Pope-like reverence, that some Tibetans may hesitate to recognize a new leader.
“The problem for any prime minister is that, compared to the Dalai Lama, he enjoys little name recognition outside specialized Tibetan circles, and that will be a difficult dynamic to shift,” Barry Sautman, a Tibet expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told the AFP.