DHARMSALA, India – Lobsang Sangay has been re-elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile in voting held last month, officials announced Wednesday, with Sangay saying the election shows that Tibetans in exile “are practicing democracy, whereas China is not.”
Tibetan election officials announced the result in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala, the headquarters of the government-in-exile. Sangay, 47, defeated his only rival, Penpa Tsering, receiving about 58 per cent of the 58,740 votes cast.
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It was the second election since the Dalai Lama stepped down as head of the government-in-exile in 2011 to focus on his role as the Tibetans’ spiritual leader. Tibetans living in exile cast their votes in 40 countries.
China says Tibet has historically been part of its territory since the mid-13th century, and the Communist Party has governed the Himalayan region since 1951. But many Tibetans say that they were effectively independent for most of their history, and that the Chinese government wants to exploit their resource-rich region while crushing their cultural identity.
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.
China doesn’t recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile, and hasn’t held any dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama since 2010.
“This election sends a very clear and powerful message to the Chinese government and the country, China,” Sangay told reporters after the result was announced. “It is a clear statement that even exile Tibetans are practicing democracy, whereas China is not.”
Sangay said his government would continue to fight for basic freedoms and genuine autonomy for Tibetans living under Chinese rule in Tibet.
Last month, he called for China to engage in dialogue on autonomy for his people’s homeland. Stressing that a dialogue with China would be his main initiative, he said he hoped that Chinese President Xi Jinping would look at the Tibetan issue and take the initiative to hold talks with Tibetan exiles.
On Wednesday, Sangay called the results of the election “the consolidation of democracy” and said an increased participation of Tibetans in the voting process reflected their maturity.
“By democratic standards, the exile Tibetan democracy is now a full-fledged, consolidated democracy,” he said.
The international community, he said, should look at his administration as a legitimate democratic identity. He said the exiled government “in many ways” reflected the aspirations of Tibetans inside Tibet.
Tibetan officials in exile say at least 114 monks and laypeople have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule over their homeland in the past five years, with most of them dying. U.S. government-backed 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 Tibet’s economy and improve the quality of life.