TORONTO, Canada, 10 May 2021
The dubious way that Parliament seems to have been duped into voting to fire the three justices, and all the ugly political subterfuge that followed, forces us to ask the worrying question: Is democracy doing us any good? Where there is the need for us to stay united to keep on strengthening our important struggle, democracy instigates us to stress our differences on the basis of the region where we are born, for mere electoral gain. No democracy in the world is free from politics of regionalism. There is a lot of room in democracy for unscrupulous politicians to whip up emotions of regionalism for personal gain. This is what some people take advantage of. Our small exile community, too, has fallen victim to this downside of democracy.
Where we need to concentrate on discussing measures to adapt our strategies for a stronger struggle in step with the fast-changing international political clime, we are reduced to only thinking of strategies to winning over more voters. Where there is the need for leaders who can truly lead people for making whatever contribution they can to making Tibet stronger, democracy makes it possible for politically ambitious leaders to indulge in sly power struggles. It is a frightening thought to imagine our society getting irretrievably divided into vote-bank fragments.
Whatever happened since March does not bode well for Tibetan exile society. The fact that the MPs who voted in favour of ousting the three justices in the hastily organised last-day session of the Parliament took this decision lightly is of great concern to the exile community. Only one thing explains the unbelievable decision of removing all the three justices at one go. That can be some sinister plot up the sleeves of the standing/working committee members of the Parliament. The ominous statement by the Sikyong that the inability to select new justices can mean the new Kashag finding no one to take the oath of office from making way for the incumbent Kashag to continue in office possibly points to a well-thought-out realpolitik. Of course, there is this provision in the Charter, but it is susceptible to misuse.
The calculated way that the members of the selection committee for choosing the possible candidates for the new bench of the Supreme Justice Commission is formed, fixing a Thursday for the special one-day Parliament session, and disregarding the significance of the resignation of Speaker Pema Jungney owning his mistake following Prof S Rinpoche’s interpretation of the relevant articles of the Charter pertaining to the provisions for the dismissal of the justices, all make us suspicious of the real intentions of the authorities who hold the reins of power.
The political intrigue that is on full display in the corridors of power in Gangchen Kyishong is the sort of democratic privilege only free, independent countries can afford. Not for us exile community the rash politicking of Donald Trump type. Not for us a country facing the real danger of anhialation of the opportunistic practice of democracy. Not for us exile community the scheming for personal political gains. We are supposed to rise above petty games of political one-upmanship. We are supposed to sacrifice personal interests for making our struggle stronger and more purposeful. All the maneuverings we have seen in the Parliament and the silence of the Kashag seeing under its very nose one important pillar of democracy going to the dogs will break the hearts of our people back in Tibet.
There is every likelihood that the Speaker might have come under inescapable pressure by the standing/working committee members to plot to teach a lesson to the three justices. Otherwise, how could the Speaker (with many years of parliamentary experience) not have the wisdom of not expecting the constitutional stalemate that would result from the reckless and constitutionally wrong action of firing all the justices? If he was not under the pressure of the dangerously political standing/working committee member MPs, he would have foreseen how this tit-for-tat parliamentary decision might lead people to losing faith in our democratic system.
Sly efforts are being made to instigate individuals who have grudges against Prof S Rinpoche to discredit and put him down. From this they hope that people will start regarding Rinpoche with suspicion, so that the effect from his interpretation of the Charter concerning impeaching justices is blunted. People, I believe, will spurn such vilifications of S Rinpoche as nothing but criticism for the sake of criticism without any substance. The monumental contribution made by Prof Rinpoche to the success story of Tibetan exile life, especially in the fields of education, democratization of CTA governance and administration is so well known as to make him almost immune to any baseless criticism from some disgruntled individuals.
For the sake of the stability and unity of the exile society, people hope that our MPs will not do anything on 20 March 2021 during the special Parliament session that will further escalate the constitutional stalemate situation that will prevent the regular transfer of power. The integrity and democratic outlook of Prof S Rinpoche can be confirmed from the fact that he happily and smoothly ensured transfer of power to Dr Lobsang Sangay — the young new Sikyong in 2011 — who was also, then, quite new to the workings of CTA. That was Rinpoche’s unwavering faith in the goodness of democracy.
Two choices, in my very ordinary-common-man view, are:
Parliament admitting to the wrongful way the three justices were removed and reinstating them, or, if this does not get done, take a decision enabling the new Sikyong and the new Speaker and the Deputy Speaker to take the oath of office in front of the holy images in the Tsuglak Khang, leaving the job of appointing justices to the next Sikyong and the next Parliament. They are the ones who have to work with the next Bench of the Supreme Justice Commission. Let us not drag His Holiness the Dalai Lama into this quagmire of constitutional-breakdown mess. Let him have peace in his retirement from politics.
If William Shakespeare were to write a history-based play about our current political situation, he might, perhaps, call it ‘All is not well that does not end well’. All of us know that he has written a comedy called ‘All Is Well That Ends Well’ about Helena, a woman of ordinary birth, who has to take recourse to comic intrigues helped by her well-wishers to be accepted by her husband Bertram, a prince. The play ends well with Bertram accepting Helena as his wife. All is well and there is rejoicing all around. Can our MPs help Shakespeare change the title of his proposed play about us from ‘All is not well that does not end well’ to ‘All is well that ends well’ by accepting their mistake of misinterpreting the Charter to enable them to get rid of the three justices and reinstate them? This will be the right and ethical way to end the present constitutional impasse. If our Chitues do not show the courage of shaking off pressure from the reckless Parliament standing/working committee MPs and own up to their blunder of earning the notoriety of emptying the whole Bench of the Supreme Justice Commission, they will be party to a most sinister political trick played on the Tibetan people.
Law is law. It can be interpreted in any whichever way one likes. Was it not Charles Dickens who said the law is an ass that can be driven anywhere one liked! That is why every Tom, Dick, and Harry claims to be an authority on our Charter. Social media is full of postings by people giving their own interpretation of the articles of the Charter pertaining to provisions for the removal of the justices, in line with whether they regard the removal of the justices right or wrong, depending who they align themselves with. For me common-sense democratic law is supreme. It is simply a travesty of the sanctity of democracy by clean-bowling all the justices with one googly ball. No other Legislature in the world has attacked democracy with such disdain in the manner our nascent Parliament has done. The poor justices were not even given a minute’s time to defend themselves. These two reasons alone render the decision to sack the justices suspicious. The protectors of the rights of the people were denied the right to defend themselves. There is no need to allude to different articles of the Charter to prove the illegality of what the 31 MPs have done. What they have done can only be described as secret ballot high-handedness.
Unfortunately, judging by the way this uncertain political situation has been created, only two outcomes seem to be possible. Either Parliament will willfully find itself bereft of the quorum to take any decision, or new justices will be selected to make life miserable for the next Administration. Either way, our experiment with democracy will be so self-pain-inflicting that China will have the last laugh. From the most disdainful and contemptuous way the justices were shown the door, Parliament standing/working committee members seem irrevocably determined to go to any vengeful length to stop the reinstatement of the sacked justices.
Will wisdom dawn on our MPs on the special Parliament session day? Chances are it will not. Poor Tibetan democracy! Powers that be in Dharamshala who can save it have turned against it.
About the author
Norbu Tsering worked at Central Institute of Buddhist Studies, Leh, Ladakh, as an English Lecturer and then at TCV School, Ladakh, as the School Principal. He currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
More articles by Norbu Tsering on Tibet Sun.