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Dialogue with China will be a challenge for the new Tibetan leader

Lobsang Sangay has been elected Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Now, he stands before the tremendous task of taking on the political role previously played by the Dalai Lama.

Legal expert Lobsang Sengey, has won the election to become head of the Tibetan government-in-exile

Legal expert Lobsang Sengey, has won the election to become head of the Tibetan government-in-exile

Lobsang Sangay has won the elections of the Tibetan government-in-exile with 55 percent of the vote to become the third kalon tripa, or Tibetan prime minister-in-exile. And it seems clear why: the young, charismatic Harvard law expert embodies change. While his predecessor is a reserved monk with a shaved head and a pensive air, Lobsang Sangay wears Western suits. He is 43 years old and father of a three-year-old daughter. He is the first Tibetan politician-in-exile who was not born in Tibet. Instead, he grew up in Darjeeling, India.

Tibetan diaspora flocks to polls mid March, 2011, as thousands cast their vote for Tibetan PM

The Tibetan diaspora flocks to polls mid March, 2011, as thousands cast their vote for Tibetan PM

With his new office Sangay says he will go to Dharamsala and continue to fight for the Tibetan cause. He adds, though "the elder generation have done their best and to a large extent have succeeded in surviving and sustaining the movement for 50 years," it is now up to the younger generations to "take more responsibility to make sure that the hard work of the elder generation will not only be sustained, but strengthened and eventually succeed in restoring freedom in Tibet."

Lobsang Sangay is to travel to Dharamsala this week to start familiarizing himself with his new duties. The main tasks of his office will focus on education, health and democracy in the exile community. The current Prime Minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, says the real task will be the "dialogue and the engagement with the PRC" (China). He wonders what many Tibetans are also wondering: whether or not the Chinese government will communicate with Sangay.

Biggest challenge

Samdhong Rinpoche says, as Beijing has only recognized the office of the Dalai Lama, "it is not very clear, particularly after His Holiness has withdrawn from the official responsibilities, how the PRC will react" to the new prime minister. "So this will be a big challenge to face."

Lobsang Sangay has been active in the Tibetan cause. During the 2008 riots in Tibet, he went before the American Senate in Washington D.C. to represent the interests of Tibetans. He also arranged conferences with Chinese scientists to help create dialogue with China.

Many Tibetans were shocked by the news that the Dalai Lama would withdraw from political office

Many Tibetans were shocked by the news that the Dalai Lama would withdraw from political office

But many Tibetans fear that without the Dalai Lama as political leader at his side, the burden will weigh heavy on his shoulders. Nonetheless, Samdhong Rinpoche is confident: "I would not use (the word) burden. Rather, it is a great opportunity to my successor to serve the people in a more responsible way, with more obligations as well as powers and opportunities."

One main goal

Lobsang Sangay is certain about his main political goal – the same goal that most Tibetan everywhere hold in their hearts: "That His Holiness will return to the capital city of Lhasa and sit on his rightful throne." Sangay adds, "with that hope, and with that as a goal, I urge all the Tibetans, especially the Tibetan youth, to take greater interest and participate much more in Tibetan politics so that our cause will be realized and the day will come when the divided families in exile and Tibet will be reunited."

Samdhong Rinpoche says the real task will be dialogue between the new PM-in-exile and Beijing

Samdhong Rinpoche says the real task will be dialogue between the new PM-in-exile and Beijing

Sangay says even if the Dalai Lama wanted to stay out of all political affairs, it wouldn’t be possible. Lobsang Sangay will still need some political guidance from his spiritual leader, especially as ties with Beijing seem as uncertain as ever.

Author: Jürgen Webermann (sb)
Editor: Adrienne Woltersdorf

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