According to the Dalai Lama’s website, the spiritual leader is set to retire as political head of the exiled Tibetan movement.
A statement reads:
‘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. During the forthcoming eleventh session of the fourteenth Tibetan Parliament in Exile, which begins on March 14, I will formally propose that the necessary amendments be made to the Charter for Tibetans in Exile, reflecting my decision to devolve my formal authority to the elected leader.’
The Dalai Lama and his followers fled China in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese Communist rule in the Tibetan capital Lhasa. The movement is now based in Dharamsala in India.
On the one occasion I saw him speak, at a press conference in Tokyo, he seemed down to earth and refreshingly self-deprecating. The impact on the movement of the loss of such a personable and respected figure appears to be something he is fully aware of:
‘Since I made my intention clear I have received repeated and earnest requests both from within Tibet and outside, to continue to provide political leadership. My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run. It is not because I feel disheartened. Tibetans have placed such faith and trust in me that as one among them I am committed to playing my part in the just cause of Tibet. I trust that gradually people will come to understand my intention, will support my decision and accordingly let it take effect.’
Despite the fact that retiring from public life has long been on his mind, the timing of the announcement is particularly interesting, coming as it does just a few days after China announced that the Dalai Lama can’t select his successor any way he wants.
As Reuters reported this week: ‘Padma Choling, the Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet, said that the Dalai Lama had no right to abolish the institution of reincarnation, underscoring China's hard-line stance on one of the most sensitive issues for the restless and remote region.’
It will be interesting to see what happens next.