MCLEOD GANJ, India, 2 April 2018
People have been waiting eagerly for months for the latest session of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, saying that there will be a great show. It turns out that this just-concluded budget session gave the people just what they were expecting … drama!
During the session, which went from 14 to 24 March, some business did manage to get done and a budget was passed of more than India Rupees 265 crore (2.65 billion) rupees (40.7 millon USD approx). The budget session sets the funds for various projects and activities of the seven departments and a few autonomous bodies of the Central Tibetan Administration for the financial year 2018-19.
But at centre stage was the Penpa Tsering dismissal issue, and the ten days saw the Parliament oscillating between mild comedy to outright melodrama. The issue was discussed every day, by the majority of the 44 out of 45 members in attendance.
Members were divided into two almost equal parts which followed the unwritten regional divisions: Khampas (including all the religious representatives) habitually taking one side, and U-Tsang and Amdo taking the other, with the representatives of the Western countries usually staying neutral.
One bloc supported the dismissal decision made by Lobsang Sangay’s Cabinet, and the other supported the demand to appoint a committee to investigate the Cabinet’s charges against Penpa Tsering.
Tsering had been dismissed from his post as Representative of the Dalai Lama in Washington DC on 7 November. Tibetans everywhere have protested his dismissal, saying that the 10-point charges against him were baseless, and that Sangay is misusing power. Protests dogged Sangay during his visits to Europe and the US in the following months. They compared him to a “dictator” and demanded his resignation.
As the members debated in the Parliament, close to a hundred people protested for days at the nearby basketball ground. Sangay rejected the call to appoint a probe committee which was demanded by the protesters and supported by some of the members of the Parliament. He stated that it was the Cabinet’s right to appoint or dismiss any representative, just as he appointed Penpa Tsering to begin with, and that anyone feeling unsatisfied with the decision could approach the court for respite.
Not seeing any hope of resolution of the melodrama despite so much time debating it every day, the Speaker convened an internal discussion session among the members, which is not normally made public. It was decided then that the Parliament would wait for actions of the Cabinet, and that there was no need to meet with the protesters as the Cabinet promised to make some decision. However 14 members of the Parliament visited the protesters in their personal capacity as they were about to disperse after the Parliament session ended.
The Cabinet tried to meet a representative from the protesting group, but this didn’t work out as they demanded that media be allowed to cover the meeting. The Cabinet rejected this demand. The protesters then demanded that someone be allowed to film the meeting, but this was also rejected by the Cabinet. In the end, no meeting took place.
With no action from the Cabinet, the protesters pledged to continue with their fight for justice.
What can we read from this continuing deadlock? There could be several things, but two stand out. One: The protests don’t bother Sangay and the Cabinet. Two: The protesters can choose to go to court.
Now, Lobsang Sangay, the president of the Central Tibetan Administration, will visit the US in the coming days. He will be at the Emory University School of Law to deliver the 2018 Berman Lecture at 7pm on 9 April at the Tull Auditorium. He will speak on “The Tibetan People’s Transition to Secular Democracy”. Should there be a protest, that shouldn’t bother Sangay.
He will be in Germany in the second week of May for a “Thank You Germany” event in Frankfurt on the 12th, and a meeting with German leaders in Berlin on the 14th and 15th. Any protests at these places shouldn’t bother him either.
As to the idea of approaching the court, if the protesters decide to go to a US court appealing to investigate the 1.5-million loan issue, what would Sangay do if the court gives a verdict in their favour? Would he step down then, for lying and misleading his people? It was he who insisted that the protesters go to court, and the protesters, having tried all other means, will see this as the only option left.
Sangay has consistently stated that the 1.5 million USD that came from the Tibet Fund in New York City in purchasing the new Office of Tibet building in Washington DC was not a loan but a grant. The protesters say that the amount was a loan, shown clearly in the successive yearly accounting reports of the Tibet Fund, but the Office of Tibet doesn’t show this as a loan. The protesters have consistently said that going to court would only be the very last resort if the Cabinet absolutely refuses to find any solution.
The stalemate will be resolved, sooner or later. The ball is still in Sangay’s court, if he chooses to try to resolve it internally. But if he really is unwilling to budge, and insists on throwing the ball to the protesters, they might be forced to go to court.
Should the issue end up in court, it will not only be about Lobsang Sangay and the protesters, but will reflect badly on Tibet, as well as the Dalai Lama.
About the author
Lobsang Wangyal lives in McLeod Ganj, and edits the Tibet Sun website.
More articles by Lobsang Wangyal on Tibet Sun.