By Youdon Aukatsang
Tibetans have successfully laid the foundations of democratic institutions over the 60 years of being in exile under the visionary leadership of HH the Dalai Lama and the commitment of elders. These institutions are not an end in themselves but vehicles to push our movement forward. However, without fully realizing the rationale of our movement in exile, we often find our priorities and focus get misplaced.
The current deadlock and the inability of the newly elected 17th Tibetan Parliament-in-exile (TPIE) to convene started off as an exercise of check and balance between Supreme Justice Commission (SJC) and the TPIE. The SJC using its contested sui motto powers decreed that the postponement of the 10th Session of the 16th House by the Speaker in August 2020 due to Covid 19 outbreak travel restrictions violates Article 40 of the Tibetan Charter. The Standing Committee of the TPIE refuted the decree and cited Article 58 of the Charter which prohibits the SJC from questioning the validity of any proceedings or decisions arrived at in the Parliament which are in conformity with relevant rules of the parliament. Despite a flurry of letters back and forth, both the bodies rigidly stuck to their respective positions. This finally led to SJC rescinding political right of the 11 Standing Committee members to vote in the Preliminary elections and the subsequent impeachment of the three justices under resolution #39 in the March 2021 Session.
The situation deteriorated further as turf battles, inflammatory remarks, misguided social media and electoral politics made for a combustible combination. The impeachment of the Commissioners and its aftermath further polarized the community. An additional session of the 16th TPIE did not take place as scheduled. The return to office of the three Commissioners after they had resigned two months earlier without going through a parliamentary process with proper closure on resolution 39 violates the Charter. However, the 16th TPIE was unable to resolve the matter before its termination.
The unresolved issue re-emerged as a new conflict arose over the swearing in of the newly elected members of the 17th TPIE. 22 members refused to take their oath from the Pro-tem Speaker who took his oath from the Chief Justice Commissioner. Members of this group, which includes myself, does not recognize the legitimacy of the resumption of office by the three Commissioners in the absence of any parliamentary proceeding following the impeachment. Two separate oath taking ceremony was conducted by the Parliamentary Secretariat on June 8th– one from the Pro-tem Speaker and the other in front of the HH’s portrait and a copy of the Charter. However, the Tibetan Election Commissioner (TEC) stalled further process of electing Speaker and Deputy Speaker as it has taken the position that the required 2/3rd quorum needed is absent based on the list of sworn members presented to him by the Pro-tem Speaker.
In hindsight, the SJC should not have issued a decree on the postponement of the parliamentary session and penalized the Standing Committee members given the travel restrictions under the Covid situation. The impeachment process could have been better managed with a resolution to constitute an investigative committee rather than bringing an impeachment motion that was introduced and passed in a rush. The Additional session should have taken place to find an amicable solution. The Justice Commissioners should not have resumed office without a proper parliamentary process. The entire situation should have been kept free of vested interests and electoral politics. Contradictions persist in politics as in all spheres of life. Whichever side one is on, there is a right and a wrong. There is no point in finding a scapegoat and instead we need to take collective responsibility for the situation that we are in.
The current deadlock in the exile Tibetan politics needs willingness from all parties concerned to transcend individual turfs, accept mistakes and take collective responsibility to resolve the issue with flexibility and open mindedness before the issue gets totally out of hand. The best way forward for this highly politicized issue is to find a win-win political solution.
Since the constitutional legitimacy of both the approaches to oath taking is questionable, the oath taking process undertaken must be recognized by both groups and the TEC as the starting point. The will of one group should not be imposed on the other. The same arrangement must be made with the oath taking of the elected Speaker and Deputy Speaker as well. Such an approach will enable the convening of the first session of the 17th House and all the related activities of filling the leadership. Furthermore, the legitimacy of the three Commissioners can be restored through introducing a resolution to revoke and void the impeachment motion 39 should that be the preference of the majority of the members.
We must ensure that the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and the Tibetan community in exile is spared such crisis in the future. The following recommendations would be important steps in the right direction:
- Constitute a high-level Committee comprised of members of parliament, a representative from Kashag and legal experts to revise and amend the Charter to address gaps and limitations. A draft should be presented within the next session of the Parliament.
- The amended Charter should have clear dispute and conflict resolution provisions so that disputes between the three pillars of democracy and with autonomous entities within the CTA are resolved in a systematic and timely manner
- Allow for virtual Parliament sessions in times of crisis and emergency and ensure that the TPIE has adequate resources and technical support to hold such sessions
- Standardize all impeachment processes with the requirement of a Parliamentary investigative committee prior to bringing the motion in the House
- Media must play a credible role as the fourth pillar of democracy enabling people to make informed and objective decisions based on facts
(Views expressed are her own)
The writer has been an elected member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile since the 14th House and is recently elected to the 17th House.