Tibetans exiled in India have voted to elect a prime minister and members of the Tibetan parliament in exile as India held closed-door talks with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.
As polling ended on Saturday, Tenzing Dhargyal, the additional secretary at the election commission of the self-exiled Tibetan government, said: "About 80% of the eligible voters in Dharamsala voted today."
Dhargyal said turnout figures from Tibetan settlements elsewhere in India would be available on Sunday.
The 46-member Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies is headquartered in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama settled in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Beijing's rule in Lhasa.
The one-day ballot was held at 53 poll stations in India as well as in Bhutan, Nepal, Europe and North America, Dhargyal said.
It was the final round of elections for members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, which supports the Dalai Lama's call for greater autonomy for the Chinese-ruled homeland adjoining India.
It was also a preliminary election for prime minister and only the second time that Tibetan exiles participated in popular elections for a "kalon tripa". The first direct vote for a premier was held in 2001.
More than 82,000 of the 100,000 Tibetan refugees in India are registered to vote for the 80 candidates. The final round of voting for a prime minister is due to take place on 3 June with results expected a month later.
Assembly results are due in early April. Incumbent monk-premier Samdong Rinpoche is the favourite for re-election.
The parliament, set up in 1962 to serve as a model of self-government for Tibet, was expanded from 1990 and given independent authority.
It was empowered to elect a cabinet of seven ministers who explain and defend their policies before the assembly.
The Dalai Lama promotes a
middle path approach
While a section of second-generation Tibetans demand an independent Tibet, the differences do not spill over in the assembly.
Teacher-turned-premier Samdong Rinpoche backs the Dalai Lama's "middle path" approach in dealing with Beijing and frowns upon radical calls for Tibet's total independence.
The Dalai Lama frequently reiterates that Tibetans want self-rule but not independence from China.
As hundreds of Tibetans voted, Shyam Saran, the Indian foreign secretary, flew into Dharamsala for talks with the Dalai Lama, officials said.
Saran described his meeting, his second with the Dalai Lama in eight months, as a courtesy call, but accompanying Indian foreign ministry officials said the talks aimed at reviewing the resumed contacts between the Tibetans and Beijing.
Last month, China's communist government and envoys of the Dalai Lama held their fifth round of talks since contacts resumed in 2002.