AP NEWS
Related topics

Dalai Lama Pleased With Government Reforms

May 15, 1990

DHARMSALA, India (AP) _ The Dalai Lama said today he was pleased with progress over the past two days in reforming his increasingly ineffective government-in-exile despite conservative opposition to change.

″Up to now everything has depended on me, but I am getting older,″ the 54-year-old Buddhist monk said in an interview. ″A democratic system of government is more important than an individual person.″

On Monday, 368 representatives of the 120,000 Tibetans overseas elected for the first time the government-in-exile’s Kashag, or Cabinet, which has headquarters in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala. Previously they were nominated by the Dalai Lama.

But only three of the seven seats were filled in two rounds of balloting. Conservative opponents of the Dalai Lama’s plan to separate himself from the day-to-day governing of the Tibetan movement handed in blank ballots and dropped out of the race for Cabinet seats.

With a laugh, the Dalai Lama said he would be happy to work with a Cabinet of three. ″That is what the people wanted. We are on the road to democracy,″ he said.

The Dalai Lama, who won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of non- violence in Tibet’s struggle against Chinese rule, ordered the changes Friday when he dissolved the Kashag and the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies, or parliament.

The spiritual and temporal leader of the world’s 6 million Tibetans said he wanted his movement to become more democratic.

Many Tibetans oppose the reforms because they fear the responsibility that democracy entails, said Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, a newly elected Cabinet member.

″In the past they thought the Dalai Lama would handle everything; now the people realize that their participation is also important,″ said Tethong, the Dalai Lama’s chief representative in Washington. ″The Dalai Lama is telling us to get involved in the movement again. It is a challenge.″

Tethong is joined in the Cabinet by the Dalai Lama’s younger sister, Jetsen Pema, known for her work with Tibetan children and in education, and Kelsang Yeshi, a former minister for culture and religious affairs.

Another reason for opposition to reforms is that many Tibetans revere the Dalai Lama as a living god and feel his authority should not be challenged by a government outside his control.

″I am just a monk, maybe a popular one, but just a monk,″ the Dalai Lama said with a chuckle.

Tethong said the next step will be to reform elections and the parliament. He said a new, expanded body will be elected by the end of the year and will better represent the exiled Tibetan community.

Tethong, and later the Dalai Lama, said the reform was necessary to rebut charges from Beijing that Tibetans live in a backward, feudal society dominated by conservative monks and superstition.

The Dalai Lama said changes in Eastern Europe have convinced him of the fragile nature of Chinese communism. He said he believes that within 10 years Tibetan exiles will be able to return to their mountainous homeland.

The government-in-exile also has been criticized for not taking advantage of pro-independence protests in Tibet in which scores died over the past two years. On May 1, China lifted martial law in the Tibet capital of Lhasa after more than 13 months.

Communist China claims Tibet has been part of China since the 13th century, but Tibetans claim their land has been an independent nation since antiquity.

Chinese Communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950. Nine years later, Chinese security forces brutally crushed an uprising, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee with 80,000 followers to India where he set up his government-in- exile.