DHARAMSALA, India (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama said on Thursday that his leadership was as outdated as a monarchy and insisted he would relinquish a four-century old tradition of power despite opposition from within the Tibetan government-in-exile.
The Dalai Lama last week announced he would step down as Tibet’s political leader to empower an elected prime minister, a move seen transforming the government-in-exile into a more assertive body in the face of Chinese pressure.
But many exiled Tibetan leaders have opposed his devolving of power, fearful the movement could wane without the influence of a global celebrity adored by Hollywood stars and the 6 million Tibetans who worship him as a reincarnated leader.
“The rule by spiritual leaders, the rule by kings or rajas is now outdated,” Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama who has been calling for democratic reforms since the 1960s, told a news conference in his first public statement since his decision.
“I do not want to be like Mubarak.”
Having long stressed his “semi-retirement” from political life, the 75-year-old said last Thursday he would step down as head of state and administrative chief, ending an institution of spiritual and political leadership that dates from 1642.
The parliament-in-exile must approve the move by a two-thirds majority amid concerns opposition may lead to a constitutional deadlock.
“If (the parliamentarians) come tomorrow and the day after tomorrow then I will tell them: No, my decision as far as an institution as a head of both temporal and spiritual, that must end, that is outdated.”
“My decision is for the long run, it is best. Now let them carry full responsibility. If they really feel something difficult, then I am available.”
Tibetans will vote for a new prime minister on March 20, with three secular candidates battling to succeed the Dalai Lama’s more than five decades as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.
The election is seen ushering in a younger, secular, elected leader to deal a huge symbolic blow for China’s claims to rule the region and strengthen the movement’s global standing.
“The Chinese government often say there is no such Tibetan issue, the only problem is the Dalai Lama. So now I made clear no problem, the Dalai Lama will voluntarily withdraw but their immediate response was this is a trick,” the Dalai Lama said.
The two main contenders have hinted they could move beyond the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” policy of negotiating some autonomy from China. A younger generation have criticized it for producing no results despite the 2008 rebellion against Chinese rule in which at least 19 people — possibly hundreds — were killed.
“Regarding the Tibetan just struggle I am fully committed as a Tibetan, every Tibetan has a responsibility. So therefore now let them carry full responsibility and I remain outside government,” the Dalai Lama said.
“I very much return to the way of the previous four Dalai Lamas — purely spirituality. That does not mean if some serious things (warrant) my suggestions, my views, if they are willing to listen, that is ok.”
Writing by Henry Foy; editing by Alistair Scrutton and Jeremy Laurence