Tibetan exiles begin voting for new political leader to replace Dalai Lama

Tibetans across the world began voting yesterday for a new leader to take up the resistance against Chinese rule over their homeland, as the Tibetan parliament-in-exile debated how to handle the Dalai Lama's resignation from politics.

Hundreds of monks in crimson robes joined other Tibetans in lining up in the courtyard of the Tsuglakhang Temple in India's northern city of Dharamsala, where the exiled government is based, to cast their votes in a festive atmosphere. Despite pleas from the exiled Tibetan community that the Dalai Lama stay on as head of government, the Buddhist spiritual leader has been adamant that an elected prime minister should take over.

The shift in power marks a major change for the Tibetan community, which for decades has looked to the Dalai Lama for both spiritual and political guidance against Beijing's heavy-handed rule in Tibet. The parliament-in-exile was discussing constitutional amendments yesterday to enact the change and free the 76-year-old Nobel Peace laureate to focus on spiritual matters.

The Dalai Lama – who is vilified by China as a political schemer – has not fully explained his decision to resign on 10 March. But he has suggested that negotiations with Beijing might be less complicated under another Tibetan figurehead.