By Lobsang Wangyal
McLEOD GANJ, India, 28 April 2021
The Tibetan Parliament-in-exile has announced that an extra session will be held on the 20th of May for one day. The session was convened to elect a new Chief Justice and two additional justices, following their dismissal last month.
In the March session of the Parliament, the three justices were deposed in an impeachment motion stating the justices had violated Article 58 of the exile Tibetan Charter, which says that the Tibetan Supreme Justice has no power to interfere in the proceedings and decisions taken thereby in the Parliament. 41 members of Parliament were present; 31 voted in favour and 10 voted against.
With the dismissal of the three justices a major constitutional crisis ensued, as now the most important pillar of the exile democracy — the Judiciary — was absent.
For election of a new Chief Justice and two additional justices, a committee has to be set up to nominate candidates for the three justices to be elected in the upcoming session. Jadur Sangpo (ex-Chief Justice), and Tsering Phuntsok and Pema Chonjor, both ex-ministers, are said to be the members of the committee. Rinchen Khando was said to have withdrawn from the committee due to conditions imposed by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and Deputy Speaker Acharya Yeshi Phuntsok in selecting the candidates, one of them being that the just-resigned three justices could not be in the list. Khando was then replaced by Chonjor.
The committee will select at least two names for the post of Chief Justice, and four for the posts of the additional justices. These names will be presented in the upcoming session to be voted on by the members of Parliament.
Earlier the rule was that the nominating committee is selected by the Chief Justice, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, and Sikyong, the head of the Cabinet. Due to the dismissal of the Chief Justice, the Parliament amended the rule during the March session enabling even just one of them to appoint the selecting committee. The current committee was appointed by Sikyong and the Deputy Speaker, as Speaker Pema Jungney had resigned.
The ousting of the justices has caused confusion and crisis. It all started after the Justices penalised the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, and the standing committee members (11 members in total) by revoking their voting rights for six months, for deciding to cancel the September session of the Parliament. The Justices found that the decision violated Article 40 of the Tibetan Charter.
In a tit-for-tat move, the Parliament introduced the impeachment motion on 25 March, and without much deliberation, the Speaker organised a secret ballot in which 31 out of 44 members voted in favour of the motion, securing the required two-thirds of the members present, to terminate the justices.
Following this, there was much debate and voices raised. Former Chief Justices and Justices found that the decision by the Parliament violated a number of clauses of the Charter, and called for nullifying the decision and reinstating the three justices.
Similar calls were made by former members of the Parliament, retired staff members of the exile administration, former executive members of various NGOs, and the general public.
When former political leader (Kalon Tripa) Samdhong Rinpoche spoke about the issue during an interview with Radio Voice of Tibet, the biggest impact was felt, leading to the resignation of Speaker Pema Jungney. Rinpoche elucidated each and every clause that the Parliament violated in dismissing the three justices.
He explained that according to Article 40 the Parliament cannot do without a session every six months. There is no provision to dismiss all the justices at the same time, and that in order to dismiss any justice, a parliamentary committee must be appointed for investigation, and their findings must be tabled in the Parliament to initiate impeachment procedures, according to Article 54.
Regarding Article 58 quoted by Pema Jungney, Rinpoche pointed out that there’s no relevance to the justices implementing suo moto power to penalise the 11 parliamentarians, as the justices have not interfered in the in-house proceedings or any of their decisions, since the matter was about violating article 40 of the Charter.
Requests for an interview with the Deputy Speaker and the members of the standing committee were turned down, with the reply that they didn’t have anything else to say than what has already been explained by the Speaker during the March session.
Their silence did not answer the question whether a withdrawal of their decision and reinstalling the justices would be possible, and is seen as lack of responsibility and accountability exacerbating the situation.
Similarly, there is the question of who the new Chief Justice would be taking oath from, as the rule has it that the new incoming justice takes oath from the outgoing Chief Justice, and there is none.
Calls of protest are being made to denounce the Parliament’s decision, and to demand that the three justices be reinstalled.
The most concerning questions remaining are what if the worsening pandemic situation prevents the Parliament from holding this session, and what if there is not 2/3 of quorum (30 members out of 45) for this last session.