Three candidates have now taken the lead in a first round of voting by Tibetans living outside their China-ruled homeland for leader, or Sikyong, of Tibet’s Dharamsala, India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration, RFA has learned.
The Jan. 3 vote for Sikyong will select two final candidates from among the seven now running, and will be followed by a second round of voting on April 11 that will decide the winner along with members of the 17th Tibetan parliament in exile.
Formed in 1959, the Central Tibetan Administration has executive, judiciary, and legislative branches, with candidates for the office of Sikyong, or president, elected since 2011 by popular vote.
Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained scholar of law, has now served two consecutive five-year terms as Sikyong and will leave that post when his present term ends in May 2021.
Preliminary election results confirmed by RFA show former speaker of Tibet’s exile parliament Penpa Tsering in a commanding lead with 22,199 votes, followed by former representative of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Aukatsang Kelsang Dorjee with 12,610 votes.
Gyari Dolma, a former CTA home minister and the first woman to run as a candidate for Sikyong, now follows closely in third place with 12,177 votes, with CTA election officials confirming all three current vote counts, speaking to RFA on condition of anonymity.
Penpa Tsering was one of the two final contestants in the second round of votes for Sikyong in 2016, with present incumbent Lobsang Sangay defeating him by a margin of only 9,012 votes.
Many now registered to vote
The number of Tibetan exiles registering to vote has climbed in recent years, but some have voiced concern over the possible impact of COVID-19 related restrictions on public balloting held in the many countries in Europe, North America, India, and elsewhere in Asia where Tibetans have made their home after fleeing China’s rule.
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force nearly 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in in India and other countries around the world.
Divisions persist in the Tibetan exile community over how best to advance the rights and freedoms of Tibetans living in China, with some calling for a restoration of the independence lost when Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950.
The CTA and Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama have instead adopted a policy approach called the Middle Way, which accepts Tibet’s present status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedoms, including strengthened language rights, for Tibetans living under Beijing’s rule.
Nine rounds of talks on greater autonomy in Tibetan areas of China were held between high-level Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama beginning in 2002, but stalled in 2010 and were never resumed.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.