Dalai Lama's successor swaps Harvard for the Himalayas

A Harvard academic will make the switch from America's East coast to the foothills of the Himalayas after being elected prime minister of the Tibetan exile community – a role that will see him take over the political duties previously carried out by the Dalai Lama.

Officials in Dharamsala, the Indian hill town that has been home to the Tibetan government-in-exile for 50 years, announced yesterday that 42-year-old Lobsang Sangay had beaten his rivals in a poll involving thousands of Tibetans living around the world.

"It is sobering to realise that nearly 50,000 people in over 30 countries voted in the recent elections. Your overwhelming support is humbling and I will do my utmost to live up to your expectations," Mr Sangay said, in a message posted on Facebook. "I urge every Tibetan and friends of Tibet to join me in our common cause to alleviate the suffering of Tibetans in occupied Tibet and to return His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] to his rightful place in the Potala Palace."

The election of Mr Sangay, who moved to the US 15 years ago on a Fulbright Scholarship, comes at a crucial time for the Tibetan community. While he is not the first person to hold the role, last month the Dalai Lama announced that he wanted to focus entirely on his position as the community's religious leader and give up his political duties. The 75-year-old said he believed that promoting someone else as the political leader would help reduce Chinese influence in the case of his death.

As a result, Mr Sangay, who is currently a research fellow in an Asian legal studies programme at Harvard Law School in Boston, will find himself in a position with more weight than his predecessors. It will be something he desperately needs as he battles for the rights of the Tibetan community, both those in exile and those living inside Tibet.

Among the immediate issues he will be forced to confront will be the recent reported killing of two Tibetans at the Kirti monastery in the south-west Chinese province of Sichuan. "The situation in Tibet is getting worse. Whoever is our leader, we have to take action. We have to think of ways to act," said Tenzin Norsang, an official with the Tibetan Youth Congress, which Mr Sangay once headed. "We have been talking for 50 years. Now is the time we have to make a move."

Amid the exiled community there is much discussion about what position Mr Norsang will take when handling the issue of Tibet's autonomy and the government-in-exile's dealing with the authorities in Beijing. Some have suggested he may be prepared to move beyond the Dalai Lama's moderate policy of the "middle way", which stresses "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet with the protection of cultural and linguistic heritage rather than full-blown independence. At the same time there are others who claim Mr Norsang has already shown himself to be too soft towards the Chinese and who have criticised his decision to travel to Beijing in 2005.

Stephanie Brigden, director of Free Tibet, said she had been in Dharamsala when elections for the post of prime minister, or Kalon Tripa, were going ahead. She said large numbers of people there were enthusiastic about Mr Sangay, particularly because he represented a break from the past and from the Tibetan families who have traditionally held sway within the community.

"The new Kalon Tripa has many challenges ahead of him – not least securing representation with world leaders. Until now, many political leaders have been able to side-step the politics of Tibet by agreeing to meet the Dalai Lama in his religious capacity only," she added. "World leaders will now have the chance to demonstrate their public commitment to finding a negotiated solution for Tibet."

Despite the election of Mr Sangay, the Dalai Lama will remain the figurehead of the Tibetan community while he is alive. He has indicated, however, that by stepping back from a political role, he may make it easier for negotiations with the Chinese authorities to proceed. Despite his cautious approach to relations with China, the Dalai Lama is regularly condemned by Chinese officials who accuse him of being a "splittist" with the desire of breaking Tibet away.

Last night, an official within the Tibetan government said the Dalai Lama was pleased the election had taken place. He added: "The Dalai Lama was very happy... as he thought people took a very active part in the election process."

From Boston to Dharamsala: How his life will change

Swapping the creature comforts of a cosmopolitan US city for a small mountain town in northern India may sound like a recipe for culture shock. But when the new Tibetan Prime Minister, Lobsang Sangay, leaves Boston to take up residence in Dharamsala – the town closest to McLeod Ganj, where the Tibetan government-in-exile has its headquarters – he may not find as many differences as he bargained for.

A wealth of international visitors to Dharamsala, the main tourist hub in the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh, enjoy dozens of Western-style hotels, internet cafés and restaurants offering a taste of American life. And Mr Sangay, who has never lived in Tibet, will find plenty to make him feel more at home. Learning to cook Tibetan meals and meditation sessions are popular pursuits for first-time visitors. Massachusetts and Himachal Pradesh are also both prone to wet weather, and hot, humid summers.

Boston is proud of its "forward-thinking" stances on controversial issues such as universal health care, but Mr Sangay's new home, at the centre of the Tibetan campaign for autonomy from China, may present a more challenging political atmosphere.

Enjoli Liston

Suggested Topics
Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
Paul McCartney backs the
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone