Sangay will assume political powers now held by the Dalai Lama [Reuters]

Tibetan exiles from around the world have chosen a Harvard law scholar as prime minister of their government-in-exile , officials have said.

"The Election Commission of the Central Tibetan Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has declared Dr
Lobsang Sangay as the third kalon tripa," Chief Election Commissioner Jampal Thosang told a news conference on Wednesday, using the Tibetan title for prime minister.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader announced last month that he would retire as the Tibetan movement's political leader, transferring his powers to the newly-elected prime minister.

Sangay easily beat the two other candidates for the prime minister's post, securing 55 per cent of the vote, Thosang said.

The election may prove a landmark in replacing a religious monarchy with a more radical leader claiming democratic legitimacy to speak for Tibetans, dealing a symbolic blow to China's claims to rule the region.

The 42-year old Sangay has said he fully supports the Dalai Lama's "middle way" formula that seeks "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet under Chinese rule, rather than outright independence.

The Dalai Lama's idea to devolve power reflects concern about how to sustain a struggle for Tibetan rights that the Nobel laureate has single-handedly carried since fleeing his homeland to India in 1959.

The worry is that when the Dalai Lama dies, the Tibetan cause, stripped of its totemic leader, will fade into obscurity. An elected figure is seen as a solution.

The Dalai Lama will continue as a spiritual leader to his people who revere him as an incarnation of the Buddhist deity of compassion. 

Born in a refugee settlement in India in 1968, Sangay won a Fulbright scholarship to Harvard where he earned a doctorate in law. He has engaged with Chinese scholars and has twice organised meetings between them and the Dalai Lama.

Sangay was in the US when the results were announced. As prime minister he will have to move to the north
Indian town of Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile that was formed in 1959 after the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. 

Source: Agencies