Tibetan constitutional crisis: The way forward

Lobsang Wangyal

Lobsang Wangyal

By Lobsang Wangyal

McLEOD GANJ, India, 2 May 2021

Democracy was crumbling right before his eyes, and yet he didn’t utter even a single word, and now he wants the public and the media to be quiet. He’s Lobsang Sangay, the Sikyong or political leader of the Tibetans in exile, leading the Central Tibetan Administration. His second five-year tenure ends in a few weeks, but he is now trying to hold on to power from the fallout of the constitutional crisis in unconstitutionally expelling the Chief Justice and two additional justices of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission.

No, we do not want even one extra day of Lobsang Sangay remaining in office as Sikyong, far less are we the people keeping quiet about the unprecedented constitutional crisis that has happened due to his utter lack of leadership.

Sangay’s silence, with suspicion of being a co-conspirator, rendered the Central Tibetan Administration bereft of the Judiciary, after the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile dismissed the Chief Justice and the other two justices in a single stroke on 25 March. On that day, 31 out of 41 members of the Parliament voted out the justices after Speaker Pema Jungney misinformed and manipulated the Parliament, in effect violating various clauses of the exile Tibetan Charter. Jungney later resigned, after Samdhong Rinpoche, Sangay’s predecessor, busted all his misinterpretations of the Charter, leading to the current crisis.

The removal of the justices was seen as a tit-for-tat move to penalise the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, and nine Standing Committee members of the Parliament by the justices for cancelling the September session of the Parliament. The justices found that the decision to cancel the session violated Article 40 of the Tibetan Charter.

For removal of any justice, it is required by Article 54 that a probe committee be formed and that they present their report to the Parliament for discussion, and then decide whether to vote out a justice or not. In the same article it was also clear that the Parliament cannot dismiss all three justices at one go. But the Parliament introduced an impeachment motion without following the procedures according to the Article, and ousted the justices.

Sangay kept quiet while the laws were being broken right before his eyes in the Parliament. So much for a Harvard University “PhD Law”, his “dedication” and “accountability”. All these turned out to be zero. Now he is appealing to the public and the media to remain silent, so that his scheme of appointing his stooges as Chief Justice and other two justices succeed by presenting a troubling scenario now: That he could remain in power until new justices were elected, as the new Sikyong would not be able to take oath without the Chief Justice.

No, this scheme will not work, as the call for repealing the impeachment motion and re-instating the justices is getting stronger by the day. This could be, and should be, done, as the ousting was in violation of various clauses of the Charter. Should this wisdom prevail, the crisis will come to an end logically.

Appeals to withdraw the unconstitutional decision of ousting the justices are coming from former Chief Justices and Justices, officials, NGOs and their leaders, and from the general public. The appeals have overwhelmed Sangay so much that he issued a video message for the public and the media to keep quiet. He could keep quiet, because he is known for not being accountable and for trying to silence the media and his detractors. If media reports something unfavourable against him, he will tag them as favouring China.

It has now become clear that the hastily-moved impeachment motion has violated a few of the clauses of the Charter. Calls for withdrawal of the dismissal of the justices are all valid. Many of the concerned MPs share the public sentiments and are willing to withdraw the decision, but they are in the minority. Such a withdrawal faces a bleak possibility, although they should do it, if they are accountable, and follow the Charter, as they have pledged during their oath-taking.

What’s now coming up is the 20 May extra session of the Parliament. While pitching hopes on this session for a logical end to the crisis, what’s actually not right also is that the session is being held illegally, as it is not according to Article 41 of the Charter, which says either 50% of the Kashag (Cabinet), or the Standing Committee, or the Parliament request for an extra session, only then the Speaker could grant that. But there wasn’t any request from any of these entities, but rather the former Speaker Pema Jungney decided himself to hold this extra session.

Even if nobody pays heed to the legal aspect of the session, another concern is whether this session could take place at all. The pandemic situation is getting bad to worse in India. There will likely be a country-wide lockdown in the coming days or weeks, as reports say two people are dying every minute, and the number of Coronavirus cases has crossed four lakhs per day in India. Over 100 Tibetans in Dharamshala have tested positive, and two died of Covid-19 just two days ago. These concerning numbers may continue to grow.

Following the grave pandemic situation, India extended the international passenger flights ban till 31 May, except for Vande Bharat Mission to fly home Indians stranded abroad. It could be assumed that all the five parliamentarians from US, Europe, and Australia will not be able to attend this one-day extra session. Now the White House chief medical adviser on Covid-19, Dr Anthony Fauci, has recommended the immediate imposition of lockdown for a couple of weeks to stem the second wave of Covid-19 in India. Both Indian and International epidemiologists warned that the peak of the second wave may be witnessed in mid-May with daily over one million cases.

An in-house meeting is becoming unrealistic because of the pandemic and possible lockdown, the travel restrictions cast a doubt over having the 2/3, ie, 30 of 45 members, attending the session. Online meeting should be considered as the alternative so that the session can take place. The first thing to consider for the session is whether tabling private bills would be allowed or not, as the 20th is Thurday, and no private bills are allowed to be presented on this day, should some members be planning to bring a motion to withdraw the decision to dismiss the justices. If they get technical over the Thursday rule, any private bill will be banned. An official bill in this regard is not expected.

The House should dwell on all the possible scenarios, as there’s every likelihood that some of the members may walk out if the House refuse to withdraw the dismissal, leaving the House without a quorum. While in quorum, they should first pave the way for how the new Sikyong and the members of the new 17th Parliament could take oath. One example could be that the new Sikyong and the members of the 17th Parliament take oath before the enthroned portrait of the Dalai Lama. Should this be decided, there’s no other urgency, like Sangay is trying in manipulative manner, trying to have his stooges as the new bosses of the judiciary. The House could reject, and should reject, such a move.

Tibetans have given the new Sikyong and the members of the 17th Parliament a strong and express mandate to serve Tibetans for the next five years. About 64,000 (over 75 percent of the registered voters) voted to elect the new Sikyong and members of the 17th Parliament. Sikyong-elect Penpa Tsering has an even higher number of votes than what Sangay got in the last election in 2016. They alone should have the legitimate authority and responsibility to constitute and elect the new members of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission — the third pillar of our democracy — not an outgoing Sikyong with dubious committee members appointed by him nominating the candidates.

Should nothing work in the session, which is another likely scenario, the Tibetan public could call for invoking Article 1 of the Charter to request the Dalai Lama to intervene, and for guidance. By so doing everything will fall in place, that at least the new Sikyong and the MPs could take oaths. But this should, of course, be the last resort. Sangay could leave on time as he has planned when his term ends.

About the author

Lobsang Wangyal lives in McLeod Ganj, India, and edits the Tibet Sun website.

Copyright © 2021 Lobsang Wangyal Published in Tibet Sun Posted in Opinions » Tags: , ,