Today, in Dharmsala, India, the Dalai Lama will make an unprecedented move in Tibetan politics by stepping down as the political leader of the “government-in-exile” by amending the Tibetan Constitution so as to devolve his authority to a newly elected representative. The Dalia Lama’s decision is likely to encounter significant opposition by the Parliament-in-Exile and many top Tibetan lawmakers, who worry that without the Dalia Lama’s leadership, the government-in-exile will lack legitimacy given its already tenuous relations with China.

Nonetheless, Pamdong Rinpoche, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile and one of the Dalia Lama’s closest advisers, claims that the Dalia Lama is in unequivocal in his decision in light of his belief that “political leadership should not be confined to one person and one individual.” Hindustan Times, March 14, 2011. The Dalia Lama has made it clear, however, that this is not because he feels disheartened, but ultimately because this shift in power will “benefit Tibetans in the long run.” As a result, Pamdong Rinpoche claims the Tibetan government must look for new and innovative solutions to satisfy the Tibetan people despite the fact that this would mark the first time a layperson rather than a monk will fill this esteemed and critical position.

The Dalia Lama’s announcement has already sparked criticism from the Chinese government. Jiang Xu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said that the Dalia Lama’s retirement is merely a “trick to deceive the international community.” Hindustan Times, March 14, 2011.

Numerous reports have speculated that 42-year-old Lobsang Sangay, an expert on international human rights law and Harvard fellow, is one of the leading candidates for the new post. Any Tibetan who has registered with the government-in-exile will be allowed to cast a ballot in the upcoming vote.