Thousands of Tibetans across the world on Sunday voted to elect the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, an exercise that may usher in a transition in the community's leadership following the Dalai Lama's "flat refusal" to reconsider his decision to retire as its political head.
"As many as 83,399 exiled Tibetans settled in India, Nepal, Bhutan, the United States, European countries, Australia, Japan, Russia and other countries were eligible to exercise their franchise to elect the Prime minister and 43 members of Tibetan Parliament-in-exile," Jamphel Choesang, chief election commissioner, said.
The one day election has aroused great interest this time, as it would be for the first time that an elected Prime Minister would function as democratic head, sans possible active guidance of the 75 year old Dalai Lama.
The five year tenure of the Prime Minister would be significant as it could mark a transition from "one-man leadership" of the Dalai Lama, to a democratically elected government of exiled Tibetans.
The Dalai Lama, a Nobel peace prize winner, has been, both, the spiritual and the political head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which he founded after fleeing to India in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.
But he had on March 10 this year announced his decision to step down as political head of Tibetan government-in-exile.
Tibetan officials said that the Dalai Lama, who will continue to be the spiritual head of the community, will not exercise his franchise in the election. The result of the election would be declared on April 27.
The current Prime Minister-in-exile Samdhong Rinpoche has already served two terms and the Tibetan charter bars an individual from holding the office for more than that period.
The three candidates in the fray for the post of the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which is known as 'Kalon Tripa' in Tibetan language, are -- Lobsang Sangay, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Tashi Wangdi.
Lobsang Sangey is a senior fellow of Harvard Law School, whereas Tenzin Namgyal Tethong is a diplomat also settled in the US.
Tashi Wangdi was the Dalai Lama's representative in Brussels, New York and New Delhi.
Tibetan officials maintained that the main contest was between the US-based candidates Sangey and Namgyal. Sangey had emerged as the front-runner during the October 3, 2010 primary poll for nomination of prime ministerial candidates.
Sangey, 43, got the maximum number of 22,489 votes while Namgyal got the second highest of 12,319 votes in the primary elections that recorded 61% polling.
The lone woman candidate, Dolma Gyari, who was poor third with just 2,733 votes, opted out of the race for the final elections. Dolma is deputy speaker in the parliament-in-exile.