This paper analyzes how democracy is conceptualized and operationalized among Tibetan exiles based on fieldwork conducted among Tibetans in Dharamsala during 1994 and in two settlements in Nepal throughout 1995. The Tibetan exiles are in a democratic transition, yet their transition resembles much more of a “muddling through” than a linear progression, as they struggle to interpret democratic values in the context of their own worldview and political circumstances. The Tibetan exiles' case can be interpreted as a new variation on the Asian democracy debate, with a focus on how authoritarian and popular choice interrelate in an actually existing democratic system. For the Tibetans, the issue is the place of the “enlightened mind” in modern forms of governance. The author finds that the exile context has both facilitated and limited the Tibetans' reform efforts.

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