By Tsering Wangyal
Our exile politics is at its rock bottom currently with no light in sight. The constitutional crisis that everyone was making a big hullabaloo about a few months ago is now really at our doorstep.
Our charter, democracy, democratic institutions and democratic process have been subverted and shred to smithereens over the last few months. Vested interests have divided our government bodies and our society into groups who currently do not seem to be able to find common ground on even the simplest of things. They have twisted our charter, events and facts to suit their agendas and spread falsehood and misinformation through traditional and social media.
There is also a cacophony of characters on social media who continue to disseminate partisan views online to divide and radicalise our society further. This is something that will only cause delight to our adversaries and dismay to our brethren and well wishers. In other words, it is a case of “dra ga, nyen dhug” as we call it in Tibetan.
If, by now, those entrusted with the sacred duty of representing our voices in the parliament, of leading our cause, and of keeping our people united, do not wake up and try to arrive at a mutually agreeable resolution, this controversy has a strong potential to develop into something that may cause irreparable damage to our nation, cause and people.
Therefore, I urge our MPs to wake up, gather their wits and good senses, learn to let go of the past, learn to let go of their fragile egos, and start focusing on what is the common good.
It is high time that they stop bickering and finger-pointing. If anyone involved in this controversy thinks that their stand alone is totally right and that the other party’s stand is totally wrong, they clearly lack the capacity for self-criticality and self-reflection. They clearly lack the capability to see the big picture and exercise much needed flexibility and magnanimity.
To use a common metaphor, everybody has added some salt or pepper in this mess of a dish. They have also fiddled with the gas knob to adjust the heat of the stove to suit their own purpose. Now that the dish is a disaster, no cook is beyond reproach. Everyone has to share the blame. Of course, some may have to shoulder more blame than others for this entire unfortunate episode. Nevertheless, I feel that right now is not the time to bicker about it. Right now, it is time to resolve the issue first before it goes out of control and totally wrecks our democracy and society.
So, suck it up and please take one on the chin for our nation, democracy, and society!
I, myself, have contributed my perspectives on this issue in two previous articles. However, that was for the sake of intellectual discourse and debate. Although my personal views remain very much the same, what I have come to realise over the past few days is that now is not the time to adjudicate who is in the right and who is in the wrong. That moment has long passed. There is nothing much to be achieved from that endeavour at this stage. If we ever dwell on that in the future, it will be for the purpose of learning a lesson on democracy and its perils. So, let us leave that decision for historians to make in the future.
At this critical juncture, it is time for us to be solution-oriented and focus on solving the problem. As Lord Buddha wisely advised, let us not spend time investigating who shot the arrow that has struck us but rather focus on how to remedy our injury and get well first. Saving our own life at this stage is more critical than trying to figure out who shot the arrow. We should urgently resolve this situation before it festers into something much worse and divides our society. I can see signs of that already happening and forces working actively to make that a reality on social media. You may have seen them too.
So, here are a few suggestions to remedy the current impasse.
Regarding ensuring the legitimacy of chithues (in terms of oath taking)
Stop arguing which group of Chithues is legitimate and which group is not.
In my view, both groups based on their current oath taking process lack constitutional legitimacy. The group which took oath from the pro-tem speaker’s oath is unconstitutional because the pro-tem speakers oath was administered by an ex-chief justice commissioner who has already been dismissed by the parliament by a unanimous ⅔ vote and has himself resigned from the post in the aftermath. The group which took oath in front of HHDL’s photo and constitution is equally unconstitutional because this is not a constitutionally-sanctioned process. Since both have not done things constitutionally, continued debate on which group is legitimate is just a colossal waste of time. It will be similar to the pot calling the kettle black.
Instead, let us settle at recognising the basic fact that all of them are indeed our legitimately elected representatives. Their legitimacy as our elected representatives is beyond dispute. Whether they have taken an oath or not is just a debate about the process.
In my view, oath-taking is a constitutional and ceremonial formality. We have seen many parliamentarians take oath in the past (in so many different parliaments around the world including our own) and then, go against the very letter and spirit of that oath. This tells us exactly how sacred the oath is being held by MPs.
The sanctity of an oath lies very much in the character of the person taking the oath, not the office or constitutionality of the one who is giving the oath. So the key is electing the right person. The constitutional process of oath-taking ensures that when that oath is broken, constitutional and legal measures can be taken against the oath breaker. It is also to ensure that no Tom, Dick, or Harry occupies the office without an official sanction.
However, as I have stated before, now is not the time to debate over the process because it is irresolvable if the status quo remains. It is time for us and the MPs to focus on bigger issues that need to be addressed first, and naturally, this too will/can eventually be resolved.
I have some suggestions on how to resolve this impasse over oath taking which I will propose at a later stage.
Regarding the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker
It is imperative that the MPs elect the speaker and deputy speaker of the parliament at the earliest possible so that the work of the parliament can continue and we can have a proper functional Kashag without interruption.
If the election of a unanimous speaker and deputy speaker proves difficult through a parliamentary majority because of current divisions in the parliament, our MPs can reach an agreement to have two speakers and two deputy speakers (one from each group). Let them share half a term each (there is a precedent for this). As for the order of their speakership and deputy speakership, they can toss a coin or draw lots and decide who goes first. A system whereby during the first half of the five year term, the speaker can be from one side and the deputy speaker from the other side, and vice versa during the second half can be arranged. This should be agreeable to both groups.
Regarding the legitimacy of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commisioners
Once the new parliament is reconstituted, it should appoint new supreme justice commissioners. In the list of nominees for this position, the current justice commissioners’ names should also be included. If they happen to win the required majority in the parliament, they can then legitimately resume their office and serve likewise. If they do not get the required support, let them honourably leave their offices, and new justice commissioners be chosen. This is a constitutional remedy to resolve the current situation.
Another way to resolve this issue would be to introduce a motion in the parliament to either retain or dismiss the current TSJC members. Based on the parliament’s vote, let them either be retained or dismissed. If they happen to be retained, all is good. If they are dismissed, then appointment of new commissioners can be done following due process.
Either of these two routes will help resolve the current impasse.
Regarding the oath taking dilemma
Whoever is appointed as the chief justice commissioner by the 17th parliament can re-administer the oath of office to the Sikyong and the pro-tem speaker. The pro-tem speaker can re-administer the oath to the chithues according to the prescribed process in the constitution. This way, the constitutional legitimacy of their position (of the sikyong, pro-tem speaker and chithues) will be restored and beyond reproach.
Regarding what the parliament should do next
After the oath taking, the parliament should meet, debate at length and pass clear laws on the following issues and, if necessary additional ones too:
- when parliament sessions should be held and under what special circumstances the postponement of parliament sessions are allowed (pandemic, natural disasters, etc.)
- clarify the role, function, and powers of TSJC especially whether they have the power to make their own laws, whether they have suo motu power or not, etc.
- clarify the procedures for the dismissal of TSJCs and other critical constitutional positions like Sikyong and Kashag, eg. whether committees should be mandatory for their dismissal or not, whether all or only one member of the TSJC or Kashag can be dismissed at a time, etc.
- think of ways to prevent the recurrence of constitutional crises in the future eg. alternate oath-taking processes, constitution of two benches of TSJC, etc.
- ensure that TSJC members have some legal background and qualifications. It should be mandatory for them to have some training in legal and constitutional matters.
- constitute a charter revision body to re-examine every single clause of the charter minutely, especially those that are contentious and rephrase these clauses to reduce and possibly eliminate all ambiguities.
- all parties involved in this controversy should formally offer khatags to each other and declare that they will let bygones be bygones and will make efforts to work together once again for our common cause.
Let us all Tibetans also agree that our similarities and commonalities in terms of our country, race, language, religion, customs and ultimately, our goal as a nation and people are far more numerous than these very few differences. Let us not let these temporary disagreements and divisions destroy our unity, struggle and identity as a people and a nation. Let us not mistake the forest for the trees. Let us always learn to look at the bigger picture to overcome this challenge that we face today. Let this episode be an eye opening lesson for all of us.
From now on, we must learn to distinguish the voices that we hear in our society and social media as belonging to two very distinct groups of people:
- those who are seek and work towards unity and resolution through amicable and mutually acceptable means, and
- those who seek to aggravate the situation further and make this problem worse by sowing discord in our community based on region and religion.
The first group has the interest of our nation and people in their hearts, and the latter group indeed is in cahoots with our adversary and forwarding its agenda and interest.
Let us be clear about that!!!
P.S. My own views about the current issue are very clearly expressed in my previous articles. However, in this post, I have tried my best to be constructive and forward-looking because that alone, in my view, is the way forward for us to emerge from the current crisis.
(Views expressed are his own)
The writer is an educator and a researcher based in Singapore.