August 2011 was a notable month for democracy for the peoples of Thailand and Tibet. On August 5, Thailand voted in its first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. On August 8 last year, I was inaugurated as the first Tibetan political leader to be
democratically elected and took over the leadership under a new governing system in which the Dalai Lama ceased to have political authority.
Although Tibet and Thailand share Buddhist culture, our traditional political cultures have been different. Whereas in Thailand the king was the temporal ruler, in Tibet for around 400 years the Dalai Lama was the temporal, as well as spiritual, leader.
In 2011, despite impassioned appeals by many Tibetans, His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially relinquished his political power, to remain only the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
His Holiness voluntarily gave up his power to dismiss the Tibetan parliament, judiciary and executive; to sign or veto bills; and to summon emergency meetings. This change surprised many, but in fact His Holiness has been quietly moving the traditional Tibetan governing system towards democracy for many decades.