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Though last week’s decision by the Dalai Lama seeking to shed political authority has left them in a state of flux, young Tibetans living in exile in India are pinning their hopes on their western-educated leaders, one of whom would lead them in the coming years.

 Young Tibetan voters are enthusiastically waiting for the March 20 elections for the prime minister (Kalon Tripa) of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The three candidates this time for the prime minister’s post are Lobsang Sangay, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Tashi Wangdi. Their fate will be decided Sunday by tens of thousands of exiled Tibetans living in India, Nepal, the United States, European countries, Australia and other countries.

The over 85,000 eligible voters have to make a choice from among the three candidates who are western-educated, comparatively younger and sharp – and represent the changing face of Tibetans.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, last week said he wants to be relieved of his political responsibilities, leaving the exiled Tibetans in a state of flux.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Over 110,000 Tibetans live in exile in India. The Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. There are approximately 85,000 registered Tibetan voters living in exile in India.

Around 45,000 to 50,000 exiles are expected to cast their votes March 20. The results are likely to come out April 25.

“This year we have observed that candidates are coming up with many relevant issues pertaining to the Tibetan community. They are much more aggressive than the previous candidates,” Palden Gyurme Samkhar, a young filmmaker who will exercise his right of vote for the first time March 20, told .

“We want a practical leader, who can take forward the middle-path approach of His Holiness (Dalai Lama). While we want autonomy for the Tibetan region, we also would like to have good relations with China. I would very carefully give my vote to the candidate who can win the rights for Tibetans to move freely and to practise our own religion and traditions in Tibet,” stated Samkhar.

With debates among the three candidates being held in India, the United States and other countries, the younger voters have realized that all three are good orators.

Lobsang Sangay, 43, is a senior fellow at Harvard Law School, whereas Tenzin Namgyal Tethong is a respected scholar who teaches at Stanford. Soft-spoken Tashi Wangdi was the Dalai Lama’s representative in Brussels, New York and New Delhi. He is educated in India and in the UK. He was earlier the Tibetan minister for information and international relations.

“We are looking at the future. Tibetans need a young and enterprising leader who can take forward our struggle. I am a hardcore supporter of Lobsang Sangay and also campaigning for him in Dharamsala,” Lobsang Wangyal, a Tibetan journalist who also conducts the ‘Miss Tibet’ beauty contest annually, told.

Tenzin Metok, 21, a student of English honours at Panjab University in Chandigarh, told: “All three candidates have same election manifestoes. We want a strong leader who can rightfully represent Tibet before the outside world,” she added.

The incumbent prime minister (Kalon Tripa) of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, will complete his second term in office in May this year. During his 10-year tenure, he has enjoyed full confidence of the Dalai Lama.

As per the Tibetan Charter (Constitution), any leader can remain on the top post for a maximum of two terms.

“We are very happy that intellectuals are coming forward to take the responsibility. Though they lived in western countries, far away from Tibet, yet they are in touch with their roots. This time, we have very good choices available,” Tashi Namchoe, who is pursuing Bachelors of Arts at Government College in Chandigarh, 250 km from here, and a first time voter, told.

Paljor Dawa, 23, said: “Exercising your right to vote is obviously a very good feeling. We are thankful to India for making elections possible for us. I am enthusiastically waiting for March 20.”

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