FAQ: The Dalai Lama’s Relinquishing His Political Role

What is the Dalai Lama giving up?
He is relinquishing the last vestiges of his formal governmental role in the Tibetan government in exile (Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA). These duties, enshrined in the Charter (constitution) of Tibetans in exile, include summoning or suspending the parliament, appointing ministers, and holding referenda.

Is the Dalai Lama ending his advocacy for the Tibetan people?
No. He says, “My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility,” and “as long as Tibetans place their trust and faith in me, I will continue to serve the cause of Tibet.” He will continue to speak out on, and speak with world leaders about, the struggles facing Tibetans in Tibet.

Does this announcement affect the Dalai Lama’s spiritual role?
No. Recognized and venerated as the 14th reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, his spiritual role is intact and inescapable. It is expected that he will continue to travel the world to give teachings.

Why is the Dalai Lama doing this?
He frames it as the culmination of a decades-long transition to democracy, which includes elections for an executive and the legislature. He also puts it in context of making the Tibetan people self-reliant for any eventuality, including his passing. He says, “it is necessary that we establish a sound system of governance while I remain able and healthy, in order that the exile Tibetan administration can become self-reliant rather than being dependent on the Dalai Lama.”

What will happen to the dialogue with the Chinese government?
The nine rounds of dialogue have been between the Chinese authorities and the envoys of the Dalai Lama. This issue may become clearer in the coming days as the parliament discusses matters like this.

What is the reaction of the Tibetan people?
In their reverence for the Dalai Lama, Tibetans almost universally follow his guidance. His wish to cede his governmental role has led to anxiety and debate within Tibetan exile community (the reaction of Tibetans inside Tibet is difficult to assess), as they contend with the difference between his temporal and spiritual roles, and the responsibility that he is seeking to cede to them.

What is the next step in this process?
The Dalai Lama has asked that the Tibetan parliament in exile make changes to the Charter. Parliament is deliberating this issue. The executive cabinet (Kashag), which had on March 10 requested the Dalai Lama not to take such a step has now said that it is fully supportive of his endeavor.

Who will “succeed” the Dalai Lama?
There is no single answer as it is not a straightforward question. On the temporal side, the Dalai Lama is clearly handing over full governmental responsibility to the elected leaders of the exile population. On the spiritual side, the question falls to the religious process and politics of the reincarnation issue. Tibetans say his reincarnation is purely a religious affair guided by the Dalai Lama’s instructions and senior lamas. The atheist Chinese government claims that only it can approve the next Dalai Lama.

International Campaign for Tibet, March 15, 2011