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Dalai Lama’s Offer to Shed Political Role Meets Resistance

Dalai Lama speaks to reporters in Dharamsala, India. (Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)

The Dalai Lama’s offer to relinquish his political leadership of the exiled Tibetan people has run into opposition not only from China, where his every utterance is viewed with suspicion, but by some high-ranking followers and associates.

“My intention to devolve political authority derives neither from a wish to shirk responsibility nor because I am disheartened,” the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, told lawmakers in Dharamsala, India. “On the contrary, I wish to devolve authority solely for the benefit of the Tibetan people in the long run.”

The exiled Tibetan parliament must approve the change, but most members of the 43-seat assembly who spoke during this week’s debate came down against the constitutional amendment that would allow such a move, according to the Agence France-Presse.

The 75-year-old leader has offered to step down before, but been denied.

“If we have to remain in exile for several more decades, a time will inevitably come when I will no longer be able to provide leadership,” he said, adding that a political system should be put in place that is not so reliant on the Dalai Lama.

Robert Barnett, assistant professor of the Contemporary Tibetan Studies and director of Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University, said the change to a more secular government in exile would represent a major shift, not only politically but mentally.

“It’s a big change in terms of re-conceptualizing political ideology. It forces a fundamental shift in the thinking of Tibetans. They are being forced to think about the future in a new way, to not have religion as a part of the political system,” he said.

The Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile since 1959, is seeking to pass his political responsibilities to a new prime minister, scheduled for election Sunday.

“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect,” the Dalai Lama said in a statement last week.

Beijing reacted with skepticism to the Dalai Lama’s announcement. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said last week that “these are his tricks to deceive the international community.”

Qiangba Puncog, chairman of the Standing Committee of Tibet Autonomous Regional People’s Congress, called it as “merely another political show of Dalai Lama,” according to China’s state news agency, Xinhua.

Barnett said the Chinese leadership’s reaction is not surprising. “The Chinese have been ridiculing the Dalai Lama for holding both a political and religious position, which is not acceptable in a communist system. Now when he has offered to step down as a political leader, they are sticking with their usual response. It has been a practice to insult the Dalai Lama no matter what he does.”

Even if he leaves his political post, the Dalai Lama still would remain spiritual leader, Barnett continued. But unless he effectively communicates that message to Tibetans inside China, they might feel he has abandoned them.

And the portion of exiled Tibetans who seek independence, rather than just autonomy, might try to exert even more pressure on the exile government and other more moderate Tibetans if the Dalai Lama is no longer at the helm, said Barnett.

This story is a feature of our World page that takes a closer look at news we either missed or lightly reported on earlier in the week. Send us your ideas for other “stories we missed” @NewsHourWorld.

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