The prime minister of a Tibetan government-in-exile called for China to engage in dialogue on autonomy for their homeland, as tens of thousands of Tibetans around the world voted Sunday for new leaders who are not recognized by Beijing.
Buddhist monks in crimson robes lined up along with hundreds of Tibetan men and women in schools, government buildings and the courtyard of the Tsuglakhang Temple in India’s northern city of Dharmsala, where the exiled government is based, to cast their votes in a festive atmosphere.
It was the second election since the Dalai Lama stepped down as head of the government in 2011 to focus on his role as a Tibetan spiritual leader. Some 80,000 voters have registered, and results are expected next month.
“The dialogue (with China) will be the main initiative,” said Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay, who is running for re-election against parliament speaker Penpa Tsering.
“I hope Chinese President President Xi Jinping in his second term in 2017 will look at the Tibetan issue and take the initiative (to hold talks with Tibetan exiles),” he said.
But, he added that the reality on the ground “is repression.”
The Dalai Lama and his followers have been living in exile in Dharmsala since they fled Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule.
Both candidates continue to support “a middle way” advocated by the Dalai Lama, which calls for seeking regional autonomy under Chinese rule.
Some groups have been advocating independence for Tibet as little progress has been made in the dialogue with China. But their representatives couldn’t win enough support in the first round of voting last year to be in the running for the prime minister’s post.
“There has been little discussion about the future of Tibet,” said Bhuchung D Sonam, a Tibetan writer. “For example, how the two candidates would approach the issue of Tibet in terms of talking to China.”
China doesn’t recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile. It hasn’t held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010.
Lobsang asked the Indian government to recognize Tibet as a core issue of its policy. New Delhi considers Tibet as part of China, though it is hosting the Tibetan exiles.
He said that Tibet has become more of an issue for India, and mentioned New Delhi’s concerns over the falling water levels of the Brahmputra River, which flows from Tibet into India, as well plans for a railway link.
“In that sense, I think Tibet is becoming an important issue not just simply for human rights but also from geopolitical point of view, environment point of view and from climate change point of view,” he said.
Exiled Tibetan officials say at least 114 monks and laypeople have self-immolated to protest Chinese rule over their homeland over the past five years, with most of them dying. Radio Free Asia puts the number of self-immolations at 144 since 2009.
Beijing blames the Dalai Lama and others for inciting the immolations and says it has made vast investments to develop the Tibet’s economy and improve quality of life.