McLEOD GANJ, India, 14 October 2019
The very high-profile Case no 20 — a defamation lawsuit — filed in the exile Tibetan court of Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission by Penpa Tsering against Lobsang Sangay and his Cabinet came to a close, with the verdict favouring the plaintiff. The judgment cleared Tsering of all the charges which had been put forth by Sangay and his Cabinet of the Central Tibetan administration to justify Tsering’s termination as Representative of the Dalai Lama in Washington DC.
The court in its 1,028-page verdict favoured Tsering in all points, but mentioned that Penpa Tsering did have some drawbacks in serving in the post, such as not being clear with communications. After coming out victorious in the lawsuit, Tsering kept the occasion low-key by saying that he has no reason to feel upbeat about the win since the case was against the Cabinet of the CTA, the official agency of the Tibetans-in-exile.
For a self-righteous person like Lobsang Sangay, the judgment certainly is a big blow to him and his colleagues in the Cabinet, causing them to lose their credibility.
The politics of this issue was coming down to what will happen in the next general elections, starting with the preliminary round possibly in October next year. It is more than likely that Penpa Tsering will have one last shot at the post of prime minister of the exile Tibetan administration (Sikyong in Tibetan). Although he said he’s unsure about running, his supporters have been waiting to see their hero at the top spot.
A win or lose of the case for Tsering wouldn’t change the vote pattern of Sangay’s supporters from the Kham region. They will not vote for Tsering despite his win. Many others, the non-Khampas, who voted Sangay in the second term, voted in good faith to let him continue with all that he had started. These well-intended voters may now consider Tsering for the post, as many feel that he’s the new deserving candidate. Tsering’s win is now an advantage for him in the race.
Tsering’s ouster turned out to be a miscalculation by Sangay, unfolding the drama that was to become the historic Case no 20. Sangay won the last election in 2016 by 15% of the votes against Tsering. The rest supported Tsering. The media tried to find out the reason for Tsering’s dismissal, but failed to get any answer. It was then that many of Tsering’s supporters asked Sangay during public meetings for the reasons. Initially, Sangay said that if the reasons were revealed, it would only be disastrous for Tsering, but soon after, the ten-point charges were released on the CTA website. It is said that Sangay composed the charges in Canada, and they were released just before his public meeting in Toronto, so as to avoid facing criticism from the public.
Many felt the reasoning to be wishy-washy, and held that if CTA conducted all staff terminations this way, even people from the very top may have to leave as they would have even more then ten charges.
Soon after the 2016 elections in which Sangay won over Penpa Tsering by 9,012 votes, as the new prime minister he decided to appoint Tsering to the post of Dalai Lama’s Representative in Brussels, as liason with the EU. But later it was officially announced that he would be the Representative in Washington DC. This move is understood to have come about at the suggestion of the Dalai Lama.
The drama that effectively divided the Tibetan community into two main groups, and which it continues to reel under, came about in November 2017 when Sangay’s Cabinet announced the termination of Tsering from the post.
The Tibetan public demanded reasons from the Cabinet for Tsering’s ouster. Giving in to the demands, the Cabinet issued a ten-point clarification on 18 November 2017, and Tsering had his last day in office on 30 November.
While on a tour of Norway in mid-November, Sangay said that it was better not to say why Tsering was terminated, as it would be a too much of a blow for him if the reasons were spelled out. But sensing that he would be dogged about the issue at a public meeting in Toronto on 19 November 2017, the clarification was published the day before. As expected, the issue dominated the meeting, and Sangay responded to justify the points. Much was said about a controversy concerning 1.5 million dollars, which appeared to be the root cause of the whole drama. The court also found this amount to be a loan from Tibet Fun to CTA, which bought the property that houses Office of Tibet in Washington DC with an additional grant from the Dalai Lama.
Someone may have wanted to hold the DC post, or maybe there was an ego clash between Sangay and Tsering — the real reason for the ousting may never be known. The Cabinet, represented by Culture and Religious minister Karma Gelek, in a press conference on 9 November 2017 said that Tsering displayed insubordination (ja punon) and dereliction of duty, when they felt the need to give some reasons.
The Cabinet didn’t have to spell out the reason for his ousting, as staff termination is within the discretionary power of the Cabinet. But they took the bait from the media and the public, and on 18 November 2017 released the ten points. Even if the Cabinet had felt the need for accountability, they could have said that the two just couldn’t get along, being recent election rivals. Everybody would have understood, and it would have looked like a genuine reason. And maybe it was.
Tsering was to leave office on 30 November. Sangay made another irrational move. He could have waited to release the 10 points till Tsering left office. But he did not. And that gave Tsering the opportunity to go through the DC office files and collect all documents needed to defend himself. Had the 10-point clarification come out after 30 November, Tsering would not have had access to those files, and wouldn’t have the upper hand, nor the confidence he had in defending and winning the case.
During the handover ceremony of the office to the new Representative Ngodup Tsering, supporters of Penpa Tsering disrupted the event by shouting slogans against Sangay. During that time, Penpa Tsering, instead of calming his supporters, said that the protest was against the new Representative. Many saw Tsering’s attitude as irresponsible, and potentially losing him many supporters.
In one more senseless move, during the 10 March Tibetan Uprising Day in 2018, Sangay in his commemorative statement inappropriately stated that Tsering should go to court if he and his supporters were discontented with the 10-point clarification. A few days later, he repeated in Parliament that Tsering should go to court. This left Tsering with no choice than to do just that, as not doing so would make him look has if he accepted the charges against him.
The next election is only a year away. Penpa Tsering winning the case may actually help him win the next election. We all know that the next contest will be between Penpa Tsering and Gyari Dolma in 2021. Or do we have any other choice?
But for now, the case is over. We don’t have to think about it anymore. What we need to do is to leave behind those divisive battles of the past, and try to move forward. The creation of any kind of disharmony should be discouraged. We must look beyond individuals. Getting entangled on such issues will only be loss of time and energy, which Tibetans can’t afford as there’s a much bigger challenge before all Tibetans waiting to be taken care of — the Tibetan Cause itself.
About the author
Lobsang Wangyal lives in McLeod Ganj, India, and edits the Tibet Sun website.