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Tibetan Government-in-Exile Elects New Prime Minister

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 01/08/22; August 22, 2001.]

by Lobsang Wangyal

DHARAMSALA, India, Aug 20 (AFP) - Samdhong Rinpoche, former chairman of the Tibetan parliament, was elected Monday as prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile in the first popular voting held on Indian soil.

The 64-year-old Rinpoche secured 84.5 percent of 30,000 votes polled in two rounds of balloting which began in May, election chief Namgyal Dorjee said, announcing the results in this northern Indian town where the exiled Tibetan government is headquartered.

It was the first time that Tibetans had directly elected a head of their exiled government in India, Dorjee added.

Observers said Rinpoche would find acceptability among the rank of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the radical wing of the Tibetan campaign which has upped its demand for time-bound strategies to secure freedom from Chinese rule.

"The new prime minister should bear in mind the real situation in Tibet and should work out a strategy so that Tibet becomes independent and that Tibetans would be able to return to their homeland in the next 10 years," TYC president Tsetan Norbu said.

Rinpoche, who was ordained a Buddhist monk at the age of four, had recently said he favoured launching a struggle for outright independence if Beijing refused to open dialogue on the Tibetans' call for genuine autonomy within three years.

The election of Rinpoche also marked a victory of sorts for the now-vocal TYC, which opposed the previous electoral practice where parliament members elected ministers who in turn chose a prime minister from among themselves.

The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama last August also called for reforms in the electoral process, which ultimately led to the system of direct voting to elect prime ministers.

"We have been asking for a direct popular vote for a long time and this development is a welcome step," said TYC chief Norbu.

"This will bring transparency in our democratic set-up."

Outgoing Tibetan premier Sonam Topgyal said new reforms were expected under Rinpoche, who was nominated to the Tibetan parliament by the Dalai Lama in 1990 and was later unanimously elected its chairman.

"The administration and democratic processes would be improved under Rinpoche. He would improve the much-talked about poor standards of Tibetan language in Tibetan schools and will devise methods to eradicate poverty among Tibetans," said Topgyal.

Rinpoche, who left the Tibetan capital of Lhasa at the age of 12 to pursue monastic studies, is expected to take office in the middle of September, officials said.

The new premier fled to India along with the Dalai Lama and hundreds of compatriots when China crushed an anti-Beijing uprising in Tibet in 1959.

The Dalai Lama has said his persistent efforts to pursue a substantial dialogue with Chinese leaders had produced no response from Beijing.

The Dalai Lama's elder brother travelled to Beijing last October -- reopening contact after a two-year freeze -- after which the Dalai Lama proposed sending a full delegation to the Chinese capital.

The spiritual leader, however, said Beijing turned down the proposals of a delegation visiting communist China.

China views the Dalai Lama and his followers as separatists determined on "splitting the motherland" and accuses the spiritual leader of promoting unrest in Tibet.

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