DHARAMSHALA, India — The Dalai Lama faced stiff resistance Tuesday from Tibet's parliament-in-exile over his plans to retire as political head of the movement, with most lawmakers against the change.
The 75-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader announced last week that he wanted to shed his role as political chief of the government-in-exile and hand his responsibilities to the next prime minister, who will be elected on Sunday.
In an emotional debate on the issue, an estimated two-thirds of lawmakers who spoke in the 43-member assembly on Tuesday said they were against a constitutional amendment to allow the move.
"The opinion of the people does not agree with His Holiness's decision. I will resign if there is any proposal for change," said one member, Ugen Topgyal.
Several speakers suggested a referendum among the 200,000-strong exiled community, while others recommended a middle path wherein the Dalai Lama remained political leader but the assembly assumed more responsibilities.
"We can ask His Holiness to not retire for a while. But in the meantime, we must make changes from within," said Sonam Gompo.
A vote on the required constitutional amendment is not expected Tuesday, but could be held later this week ahead of the election on Sunday.
In a letter read out to lawmakers on Monday, the Dalai Lama argued that the Tibetan movement was now mature enough for a directly-elected political leader.
"If we have to remain in exile for several more decades, a time will inevitably come when I will no longer be able to provide leadership," he said in the letter.
The Dalai Lama's political title is largely symbolic and he will retain the more significant role of Tibet's spiritual leader.
But the change would be a significant step for the Tibetan movement in exile, which is divided between those who want autonomy and those who seek full independence for Tibet from China.
The current exiled prime minister, Samdhong Rinpoche, told lawmakers at the start of the session on Tuesday that the parliament "stands with the change His Holiness is proposing, with a heavy heart."
It is not the first time the Dalai Lama has asked to be released from his ceremonial political responsibilities, and the parliament has rejected similar requests in the past, arguing that there is no replacement of equal stature.
The exiled Tibetan movement has been based in India since 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled his homeland after a failed uprising against Beijing's rule.
The Nobel Laureate has argued that Tibetans need to prepare for life after him. His request to retire as political head has forced many of his followers to confront the difficulties the Tibetan movement in exile will face.
The problem is whether the future leaders of the Tibetan movement -- the Dalai Lama's eventual successor and any new political leader -- will have the contacts, profile and influence to keep the Tibet issue alive.
The community in exile is braced for a huge struggle with Beijing about the choice of the next Dalai Lama. China has already stated it intends to have the final say in the selection process.
The Dalai Lama has suggested several ways in which he might be replaced, either with a vote for a new spiritual leader or via the traditional method in which a child is chosen by senior monks.
He has also said the title might be scrapped, ending a 600-year tradition.
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