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Tibetan democracy in exile and Chinese rule over Tibet PDF Print E-mail
[5 September 2012] The Dharamsala-based NGO Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) has produced a detailed report analysing the Tibetan exiled political system. As well as describing the development of democracy in the exiled Tibetan community, it also provides an overview of China's political hierarchy and the processes by which the Chinese government rules Tibet.

TCHRD logo"The task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute." John Dewey, American philosopher (1859-1952)

The report (70 pages not including the Appendices) provides an introduction into the history and development of Tibetan exiled politics including the recent changes following the Dalai Lama's retirement from political duties. The document explains how the Dalai Lama introduced democratic practices shortly after his exile from Tibet in 1959 and continues through to the recent separation of religion and politics with the Dalai Lama's devolution of power to the Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister).

Though the report trumpets the progress of democratic reforms in the exiled community, TCHRD's analysis does not disguise the fact that there are still problems that need to be addressed. For example, it is pointed out that at the grassroots level not all Tibetan settlements have local assemblies and very few settlements have elected officials.

The report also examines the political system in the People's Republic of China, with explanations of how the various State and Communist Party bodies work. Official policy is quoted, but is countered by the reality on the ground. For example, China claims it holds democratic local elections where people are free to vote, however the truth is that the choice is only between candidates approved (and often hand-picked) by the Chinese Communist Party.

Finally, the report looks at how China controls the political affairs of Tibet. Despite the Chinese constitution claiming that regional autonomy allows local people to make decisions for themselves through local congresses, the reality is that the real power is held by the regional Communist Party, which is directed by the national Communist Party.

In its conclusions, TCHRD asserts that "Tibetan democracy is unique" with elements of the exiled system based on models employed by India and the USA, but notes it still "an evolving process". Tibetans in exile have embraced democracy, where each person has a say in how they are governed. This contrasts acutely to Tibetans living in Tibet, who are subject to China's "highly centralized form of governance aimed to exercise control of unruly natives rather than to provide them with autonomy and make them masters of their own affairs'."

Note: One of Tibet Society's objectives is to assit the exiled Tibetan community develop its democratic processes. By facilitating MP exchange visits between Dharamsala and Westminster, Tibet Society has helped the Tibetan parliamentarians gain vital information to push forward democratic reforms, whilst informing British parliamentarians of the challenges facing the exiled government.

Further reading:
Download TCHRD's report (PDF document, 1.8 MB)
TCHRD's press release on "Democracy in Exile: Special Report 2012"
British MPs visit to Dharamsala, October 2011 on Tibet Society's blog


Tibet Society, the worlds first Tibet support group, was founded in 1959. Funded by its members, it has been working for over 50 years to seek justice for Tibet through parliamentary lobbying, campaigns and actions. Help keep Tibet alive by joining Tibet Society today. (Annual membership 24; Overseas 36; Life 500).

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