Tibetan Parliament to hold session despite Corona restrictions

Tibetan Parliament-in-exile in Dharamshala, India, on 15 November 2019.

Tibetan Parliament-in-exile in Dharamshala, India, on 15 November 2019. File photo/Tibet Sun/Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

McLEOD GANJ, India, 16 May 2021

In the wake of a Tibetan constitutional crisis following the termination of the chief justice and the other two justices of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission, the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile has called for an extra session to try to resolve the issue.

A circular to all the members of the Parliament, shared on social media, has said that the Parliament will hold a session on the 24th of this month, after a discussion session a day earlier.

The extra session was called to try to find a way for the new Sikyong-elect to take oath of office. The absence of the Chief Justice has created a crisis as Article 25 of the Charter requires a new Sikyong to take oath from the Chief Justice.

The new parliamentarians of the 17th Parliament have to take oath from a pro tem Speaker, but the pro tem Speaker must take oath from the Chief Justice. The new members will then elect a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker.

However, the session is being convened amidst a “Corona Curfew” imposed by the state government. The Himachal Pradesh government ordered strict restrictions that prohibit gathering of more than five people due to the surge in the Coronavirus infections. The curfew imposed on 7 May has been extended till the morning of 26 May.

Should the session go ahead, it will be in violation of Article 6 of the Tibetan Charter, which says that all laws of the Central Tibetan Administration, executive orders, and its regulations must be in compliance with international law, and in particular, with the laws of the host countries.

The session will also be in contradiction of a circular issued by the Cabinet secretary ordering all CTA staff members to work from home during the curfew period.

It is also not clear if the session would be lawful considering Article 41 of the Tibetan Charter, which says, to convene an extra session of the Tibetan Parliament, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker should jointly decide to call an extra session if and when requested by more than fifty percent of the Kashag, and the members of the Parliament. The Speaker’s post has remained vacant after Pema Jungney resigned on 8 April.

A question also arises pertaining to Article 45.5 which says: “Whenever the post of the Speaker or, the Deputy Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament, becomes vacant by resignation, removal, or death, a replacement must be elected in accordance with the rules for the purpose at the earliest.”

So far all the business of the Parliament is being decided by the Deputy Speaker.

Stating as unconstitutional the decision of terminating the justices on 25 March, there has been a public call for the Parliament to withdraw and reinstate the justices. It has come to light that the Parliament has violated Article 54 of the Tibetan Charter, as it mandates forming an inquiry committee, and presenting its report to the Parliament for discussion, before an impeachment of the justices can be initiated.

Tibet Sun has learned that more than 15 MPs have signed a letter asking the Parliament to withdraw the 25 March decision expelling the justices, who were accused of interfering with the business of the House, citing Article 58. The decision to dismiss the justices was initially favoured by 31 MPs, with 10 opposing.

A quorum for the session has also become an issue, considering many of the MPs who are now accepting the unlawful dismissal of the justices, as well as the Corona Curfew in place. Due to the ban on international flights, five members: two from US, two from Europe, and one from Australia will not be able to attend.

Two members who are in Nepal are not expected to attend as well due to the lockdown in the country.

Health concerns could deter some MPs from attending the upcoming session, as people have contracted the Coronavirus after they attended meetings, such as the Tibetan Women’s Association meeting in April. Travelling long distance such as from South or northeast India could also come in the way for some MPs to attend.

Tibet Sun has learned that the session on the 24th, if it takes place at all, will propose to amend the Charter and make oath-taking before the portrait of the Dalai Lama an option in case of the absence of the Chief Justice.

And also that if the session is held, it will not be broadcast live, in order to avoid attention from possible criticism.

Penpa Tsering, the new Sikyong-elect, would be taking oath on the 26th as incumbent Sikyong Lobsang Sangay completes his second five-year term on that day.

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