His decision was the culmination of a decades-long process of “quietly dismantling the traditional theocratic-aristocratic system of his position and preparing Tibetans for the day he would not be at the helm, said Lobsang Sangay, the man poised to assume political leadership of the exiled Tibetan democracy movement.
But the gesture may also have unforeseen consequences, says Chang.
Democratic governance makes national governments strong and resilient, but is democracy good for mass movements? Up to now, political scientists have assumed that a movement needed a single leader with a single voice to be successful. The Dalai Lama, however, has opted for the cacophony of democracy. Democracy ensures his movement will retain popular support around the world and will be viewed as legitimate, especially when his adversary is the increasingly authoritarian Communist Party of China.
Yet democratic institutions will also make the Tibetan cause hard to manage, especially for someone like Sangay, who has lived far from Dharamsala for almost all his life.