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June 27, 2017

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Exiled Tibetans vote for leader to replace Dalai Lama

DHARMSALA, India -- Thousands of Tibetans worldwide voted Sunday for a new political leader who hopes to become a fresh face of their struggle for freedom in China, a cause embodied for decades by the Dalai Lama.

The revered monk, 75, announced 10 days ago that he wanted to retire as political head of his exiled government and hand power to an elected leader who could continue the fight after his death.

Amid anxiety about the change, exiled Tibetans in 13 countries from Australia to the United States cast ballots on Sunday for a new prime minister, known as the Kalon Tripa, and a new exile parliament.

The front-runner for the prime minister's job is 43-year-old Harvard scholar and international law expert Lobsang Sangay, who was born in a tea-growing area of northeast India. He has never visited his homeland.

"His Holiness is devolving powers and we should be more cautious in electing the representatives and the Kalon Tripa," said Tsering Choedup, a political activist in Dharmsala, where the movement is based.

"This time, people feel more responsibility to vote," he said as he waited in line with others to vote at a Buddhist temple.

The exact details of the transfer of power are yet to be worked out — the parliament in exile still hopes to block the change — but the Dalai Lama is adamant that the movement must be fully democratic to prepare for the future.

Under his plans, he will remain spiritual head of Tibet and the figurehead of the struggle for autonomy for Tibetans in China, but he will no longer be head of the exile government.

The job is mostly ceremonial — he signs resolutions, swears in the cabinet and occasionally attends parliament — but the move is part of the Dalai Lama's plan to hand power to elected representatives.

"Rule by spiritual leaders or by kings, these are now out of date," he told AFP last week during an interview in his home in exile in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas.

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