Tibetan exile political leader Penpa Tsering was sworn in Thursday as Sikyong, or head of Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration, vowing to uphold the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” in helping his people cope with harsh Chinese rule.
Tsering, former speaker of Tibet’s exile parliament in Dharamsala, won a closely fought April 11 election held in Tibetan communities worldwide over Kelsang Dorjee Aukatsang, with the turnout the highest in the history of Tibetan elections held in exile.
In his inaugural address, at a ceremony held with a small audience because of Indian’s coronavirus restrictions, he hailed the high turnout of 77 percent of registered voters as “a victorious step forward in the democratic polity” and thanked the Dalai Lama for contributing to democratization.
“I reiterate my commitment to direct all my energies in carrying out the responsibility of finding a lasting solution for the Sino-Tibet conflict and looking after the welfare of the Tibetan people,” he said.
Divisions persist in the Tibetan exile community -- about 150,000 people living in 40 countries, mainly Indian, Nepal, North America, and in Europe -- over how best to advance the rights of the 6.3 million 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 the Dalai Lama have instead adopted a policy approach called the Middle Way, which accepts Tibet’s status as a part of China but urges greater cultural and religious freedom, including strengthened language rights, for Tibetans living under Beijing’s rule.
"We will reach out to the Chinese government to find a mutually beneficial, negotiated, non-violent solution to the Sino-Tibet conflict,” Tsering said, stressing his fidelity to the 85-year-old Dalai Lama’s approach.
'Gross mistakes' by China
“We shall not dither from pointing out the gross mistakes of the Chinese government’s policies and programs and seek to redress, withdraw or amend the wrong policies,” he added.
Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, following which Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.
In his congratulatory message to Tsering, the Dalai Lama highlighted the success in the transition that has delivered the fifth elected CTA leader.
“Despite criticism from the Chinese Communist government, Tibetan democracy have thrived and been able to establish a proper administration in exile. And the Middle Way approach proposed by us will peacefully resolve the issue and bring co-existence between Tibetan and Chinese people,” he said.
“What is unique in our community is also how democracy is allowed to thrive within the framework of Buddhist ideology,” said the Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
In a message to Tsering earlier this week, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said “the resilience of the Tibetan people continues to inspire the world” 60 years after the Dalai Lama was driven into exile.
“Courageously standing strong against Beijing’s repressive grip, the CTA has helped ensure the survival of your beautiful language, vibrant culture, and religious harmony,” she wrote.
Tsering replaced Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained scholar of law, who had served two consecutive five-year terms as Sikyong, an office in the northern Indian city of Dharamsala filled by candidates elected since 2011 by popular vote.
“Over the last decade or so, we have witnessed China’s increasing power, and an escalating belligerence in refusing to engage in any discussion about human rights and democracy,” he said in his farewell address Wednesday.
The inauguration of Tsering came after the resolution of a two-month constitutional crisis in Dharamsala, after the removal on March 25 of Chief Justice Sonam Norbu Dagpo and commissioners Karma Damdul and Tenzin Lungtok of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission by the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, who accused the trio of interfering in the internal proceedings of the legislature.
The ouster of the justices was triggered after the justices penalized the parliament’s speaker, deputy Speaker, and the 11-member standing committee by revoking their voting rights for six months after they cancelled the September session of the parliament.
The justices resumed office on Monday, after 21 members of parliament sent them a letter, admitting the sacking of the justices on March 25 had violated provisions of the Tibetan charter.
Speaker Pema Jungney of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, who led the sacking of the justices in March, resigned both as speaker and Member of Parliament on April 8, denying any wrongdoing.
The newly elected parliament is slated to be sworn on Sunday, but a COVID-19- related curfew in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where Dharamsala is located, has been being extended to May 31, amid international travel restrictions, creating uncertainty about the schedule.
RFA attempted to contact the parliament but had not received a response as of Thursday.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickey. Written in English by Paul Eckert.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.