The Dalai Lama announced Thursday he would step down as political head of the exiled Tibetan government, but continue to push the Tibetan cause in his key role as its spiritual figurehead. In an address in Dharamshala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India, the Dalai Lama said he would seek an amendment allowing him to resign his political office when the exiled Tibetan parliament meets next week.
“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,” the 75-year-old said. “Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.” While he retains the more significant role of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the move marks a symbolic watershed in the history of the Tibetan movement and its long and largely fruitless struggle against Chinese rule.The Dalai Lama was just 15 when he was appointed “head of state” in 1950 after Chinese troops moved into Tibet. He fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
His temporal duties are largely ceremonial and the Dalai Lama had already pronounced himself “semi-retired” following the first direct election in 2001 of a prime minister as the formal head of the exiled government. In his address on Thursday, the Dalai Lama acknowledged “repeated and earnest” requests from within Tibet and outside to continue as political leader, but appealed for understanding of his decision.