The Dalai Lama says he is stepping down so that the Tibetan people can elect his political replacement via a democratic process, a move he says will benefit the Tibetan people in the long run.
However, the Christian Science Monitor reports that the replacement will likely be unknown outside the 150,000 or so members of the Tibetan exiles who have the right to vote in the elections. This has observers wondering how effective his replacement could be in not only maintaining the international attention the current Dalai Lama commands, but in representing the 5.5 million Tibetans living in China.
Although Tibetan governments take political responsibility on behalf of a Dalai Lama when the Lamas are too young, this would be the first time that Tibet’s spiritual leader and political leader are officially two different people.
As the country faces another political fracturing – this one between Tibetan youth in exile and their older countrymen, the Dalai Lama’s retirement could mean a change in Tibetans' strategy for gaining autonomy from China. Some younger Tibetans oppose the pacifism doctrine that the Dalai Lama has made the centerpiece of his struggle for autonomy. They say the Tibetan administration needs to take a harder line.