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Exiled lawmakers to debate Dalai Lama's devolution plan

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
The Dalai Lama speaks during a students' gathering at Mumbai University in Mumbai on February 18, 2011.
The Dalai Lama speaks during a students' gathering at Mumbai University in Mumbai on February 18, 2011.
  • Parliament will consider Dalai Lama's plan to shed his political role
  • The lawmakers can accept, reject, or amend the proposal
  • The speaker of the lawmakers-in-exile says it will be difficult to accept the plan as written

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Exiled Tibetan lawmakers are set to hold a historic debate on the Dalai Lama's offer to shed his political role, the speaker of their parliament said Monday.

The statement came after the speaker read to the legislators the spiritual leader's proposals to accord greater powers to their elected representatives.

"The essence of a democratic system is, in short, the assumption of political responsibility by elected leaders for the popular good. In order for our process of democratization to be complete, the time has come for me to devolve my formal authority to such an elected leadership," the Dalai Lama said in his message to Tibet's parliament-in-exile, which is meeting at Dharamsala, India.

"The general lack of experience and political maturity in our democratic institutions has prevented us from doing this earlier," he added.

Dalai Lama to retire
  • Dalai Lama
  • Tibet
  • China

Penpa Tsering, the speaker of the exile unicameral chamber, told CNN that its lawmakers would now debate the Dalai Lama's motion. "We should get a sense of the house by tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon," he said.

The assembly, he explained, will primarily have three options -- accept all his proposals, reject them completely or recommend what he called a middle course by giving more executive powers to the elected leadership of Tibet exiles.

In case the lawmakers agree to the Dalai Lama's proposals in totality, they will be required to set up a special drafting committee to amend their present constitution or the charter, he said. The whole process then may take months, possibly beyond the next session slated for June, Tsering added.

"But to me, the first option (of accepting all his proposals) seems difficult," the speaker cautioned. "This will have many ramifications, including those related to the Dalai Lama-led dialogue with China." According to Tsering, the Dalai Lama could be requested to retain political leadership of the community while devolving his ceremonial powers into elected representatives as a middle ground.

In his message, the Tibetan community's global figurehead cited democracy as a key means to the success of his movement. "No system of governance can ensure stability and progress if it depends solely on one person without the support and participation of the people in the political process. One man rule is both anachronistic and undesirable.

"We have made great efforts to strengthen our democratic institutions to serve the long-term interests of the six million Tibetans, not out of a wish to copy others, but because democracy is the most representative system of governance," he wrote.

The final vote for a new prime minister of his government-in-exile is due on March 20.

The Dalai Lama fled China 52 years ago on March 10, 1959, after a failed uprising. The exile group is headquartered in Dharamsala.

He told CNN in October that he would like to retire at some point. "I'm also a human being. ... Retirement is also my right," he said while on a speaking tour of North America. Without saying exactly when, he said, "Sooner or later, I have to go. I'm over 75, so next 10 years, next 20 years, one day I will go."