Washington, D.C., May 18 - Early this morning, in an exclusive radio broadcast from Dharmsala, India, the Voice of America aired the first live debate in Tibet's history between two candidates vying for the position of prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). Dharmsala is the seat of the CTA, as well as the residence of its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
During the debate, the candidates-Samdhong Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin and Juchen Thupten Namgyal -discussed methods of dealing with China, which has occupied Tibet since 1949. Both candidates voiced their support for the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way Approach," which seeks genuine autonomy, but not independence, for Tibet. Samdhong Rinpoche said, "There is no need to change this policy in the future."
The exiled government's election, which is scheduled for June 3, 2006, will be only the second direct election ever held among Tibetans. The first was in 2001, and prime ministers are limited to five-year terms. Due to the CTA's government-in-exile status, only members of the Tibetan diaspora may vote. They are estimated to number over 111,000, with the vast majority residing in India. Approximately one-third cast their votes in the March 18, 2006 primary, in which incumbent Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche secured 82.6 percent of the vote, while former appointed Prime Minister Juchen Thupten received 6.96 percent.
The debate was broadcast live in Tibetan from 12 noon - 2 p.m. local time on shortwave in Tibet, India, and Nepal, and on VOA Tibetan's live Internet stream. Tenzin Tsundu, a young Tibetan activist, described the debate as "very informative, educational, and useful to Tibetan people." Candidate Juchen Thupten said: "It is quite clear that we are in a very critical period in our history."
VOA's Tibetan Service broadcasts a one-hour television news show every week and four hours of radio programming per day. In addition to news, show topics include health, culture, language, music, literature, and youth issues. More news and information is available on VOA's website at www.voanews.com/tibetan