WASHINGTON — The newly elected prime minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile predicted Wednesday that the 75-year-old Dalai Lama will return during his lifetime to the homeland he fled five decades ago.
In Dharmsala, India, the Tibetan spiritual leader’s exile headquarters, Harvard legal scholar Lobsang Sangay was declared on Wednesday the winner of a vote cast by tens of thousands of Tibetans around the world, after the Buddhist leader said he wanted to devolve political authority to an elected leader.
Sangay grew up as a refugee, and his father, a former monk, fought as a guerrilla against China’s occupation of Tibet. Sangay told reporters in Washington he would seek to restore the freedom, dignity and identity of Tibetans.
He also promised to reach out to China and pursue the Dalai Lama’s stated desire for greater autonomy for Tibetans within China.
“Tibet is under occupation. There is political repression, ethnic assimilation, economic marginalization and environmental destruction,” said the 43-year-old Sangay, dressed in a smart business suit. He said that if China wanted to become a world superpower, it could not do so through economic or military might but would need to exercise moral authority in how it treats people.
Sangay urged Beijing to review its “hard-line” Tibet policy and take a “more moderate and liberal approach.” He said the government-in-exile remained ready for negotiations. Nine previous rounds of talks have made no headway.
While the Tibetan government-in-exile has existed for decades, it has long been seen as a powerless reflection of the wishes of the Dalai Lama, who is worshipped as a near-deity by many followers. Ceding his political powers is widely seen as a way to prepare for the spiritual leader’s death and to show Beijing that exile leaders will continue to wield influence.
Sangay said the Dalai Lama remains healthy and strong and maintains a punishing schedule.
“He will live very long. I believe we will see he will return to Tibet in his lifetime,” Sangay said.
China occupied Tibet in 1950 and claims the region has been part of its territory for centuries. Many Tibetans, who are linguistically and ethnically distinct, say they were effectively independent. While China has made strides to develop the remote region, Tibetans fear they are being marginalized economically and that their religion is under threat from restrictions imposed by the authoritarian government in Beijing.
The Dalai Lama fled into exile in northern India in 1959. Sangay said he will join the spiritual leader in Dharmsala by mid-May. Sangay and the other members of the parliament-in-exile, whose election victories also were announced Wednesday, will be sworn in on May 30 in Dharmsala.