Q+A - Dalai Lama to step down as Tibet political leader

NEW DELHI Thu Mar 10, 2011 6:02pm IST

Tibet's exiled Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama reads during a ceremony marking 52 years since he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese, in Dharamsala March 10, 2011.  REUTERS/Stringer

Tibet's exiled Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama reads during a ceremony marking 52 years since he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese, in Dharamsala March 10, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Dalai Lama said on Thursday he would step down as political leader in a move seen as transforming the Tibetan government-in-exile into a more assertive and democratic body in the face of Chinese pressure.

Here are some questions and answers on what the announcement means:

WHAT DOES DEVOLUTION OF POWER MEAN?

Describing himself as "semi-retired", the Dalai Lama has for long insisted he does not want political power and desires a quiet life as a spiritual leader. Officially, however, he retains authority over the parliament-in-exile.

Thursday's announcement is seen as ushering in a new age of democratic decision-making by an elected chamber, transferring authority under the Charter for Tibetans in Exile to a prime minister.

However, in practice, it might be difficult for him to totally remove himself from the political picture because of his global recognition and huge sway over Tibetans in India and elsewhere.

WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?

The Dalai Lama will not officially relinquish political power until his request is formally passed into law by the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, which meets on Monday to debate the announcement.

Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister-in-exile, told reporters on Thursday he expected resistance to the proposal in parliament, and that reluctance from the people to allow the Dalai Lama to devolve his powers could result in constitutional deadlock.

WHY STEP DOWN NOW?

Talk of the Dalai Lama's succession has swirled in recent months, with many Tibetans fearing that Beijing -- which says it must approve all reincarnations of senior Tibetan spiritual leaders -- will look to exploit any vacuum caused by his death.

China is expected to push its chosen replacement when the current Lama dies.

The Chinese-appointed governor of Tibet said on Monday the next Dalai Lama must be reincarnated, as tradition dictates, rather than appointed by the incumbent or chosen through elections, two ideas mooted by the current Dalai Lama.

His announcement comes just weeks before a new prime minister of the government-in-exile is elected, with all three more youthful candidates coming from a secular background.

WHAT IMPACT WILL IT HAVE ON TIBET'S INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT?

The Dalai Lama's proposal is seen shoring up a democratic power base through any succession period, and bestowing upon the incoming prime minister greater clout both on the world stage and in any negotiations with China.

Any move towards democracy for the Tibetans is likely to increase support for their cause, analysts said, and remove one element of the parliament-in-exile that Beijing often cites in its criticisms of the movement.

Also, by stepping back from political power, the Dalai Lama could also find it far easier to travel and be seen greeting Western leaders who can often be reluctant to meet him amid worries it could upset diplomatic and trade ties with China.

(Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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