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Penpa Tsering elected new president of Tibetan govt-in-exile

“Strengthening Tibetan unity will be one of my top priorities,” says Penpa

Penpa Tsering Penpa Tsering

Penpa Tsering, 53, has been elected the new president of Tibetan government-in-exile, becoming the second Sikyong (president) to hold the political power after Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama delegated the powers to a democratically elected government of the exiled community. 

The position of Sikyong of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was created by Tibetan Parliament in 2011. Penpa succeeds Lobsang Sangay who completes two terms as president in May. 

Speaking exclusively to THE WEEK after his electoral victory, Penpa said young Tibetans around the world will soon get a chance to directly get involved in raising issues concerning mass migration of Chinese in the Tibetan plateau and alleged destruction of Tibetan identity, language and religious freedom. 

''I have decided to establish a global Tibetan advocacy group to rope in young Tibetans, college going students and professionals, who are based in at least 25 countries, to work towards resolution of conflict in Tibet and remind the Chinese government that the issues cannot be ignored,'' he said. 

Penpa's political victory, however, has come at a time when a constitutional crisis has hit the exiled government in Dharamsala. Last month, the Parliament-in-exile had passed a resolution to impeach the Chief Justice Commissioner and the two Justice Commissioners of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission, the exile apex court .  

This has resulted in a crisis situation for the CTA, which is witnessing an unprecedented situation in the form of cracks in the unity of the Tibetan community for the first time. 

Penpa has to take oath in May and the swearing-in is carried out by the Chief Justice Commissioner. But with the three judges of the exile Tibetan apex court being impeached, Penpa will have to wait for the new justice commissioner to take charge. 

Sources said the matter is expected to be resolved before the incumbent, Lobsang Sangay demits office. 

“A special session of the Parliament-in-exile has to be held before that,” said an official.

However, the developments have left the Tibetan exiled community worried about the fissures in the unity of the people who have been struggling for a larger cause under Dalai Lama.

''The crisis in the democratic polity needs to be resolved and one of my priorities soon after taking charge will be to strengthen the Tibetan unity,'' Penpa told THE WEEK. 

According to sources, the election process also witnessed divisions within the exiled community.

Penpa said all Tibetans need to unite to fulfil Dalai Lama's wishes and work towards the resolution of the Tibet conflict based on the middle way approach. 

''We will also work with the Indian and the US governments to put pressure on the Chinese government to resolve the Sino-Tibet conflict,'' he said. 

Penpa’s parents came to India following Dalai Lama's exile in 1959. Penpa's father hails from Amdo Nangra and mother from Shigatse in Tsang. 

Just as many other Tibetan families in exile, his parents were farmers at the south Indian Tibetan rehabilitation settlement of Bylakuppe in Karnataka. 

Born in 1967, Penpa is the third of three brothers and has six sisters. He studied at the Central School for Tibetans at Bylakuppe and graduated with economics major from Madras Christian College in 1988. During his college days, he worked part time in a restaurant to financially support his education. 

Penpa has worked as General Secretary of the local Tibetan Freedom Movement and Nigerian Tibetan Students Friendship Association in his youth. He was the speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile from 2008 to 2016 and worked as Dalai Lama's representative in North America in 2016-17. In the 1980s, he had organized many peaceful protests and demonstrations in Chennai to create awareness and to garner support for the Tibetans and peaceful demonstrations in and around Lhasa in Tibet which were suppressed by the Chinese government .

In 2006, he organised Dalai Lama's address to the Indian Parliament and thereafter travelled to many countries in Europe, North America and Australia to advocate for Tibet. In 2017, he helped organise the high level bi-partisan US Congressional Delegation to Dharamsala led by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and also coordinated security arrangements with Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) for Dalai Lama's visit to the US. 


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