Tibetan Exile MPs Sworn in Amid Political Controversy

Two factions in the parliament have emerged, with disputes surrounding the legitimacy of how the oaths of office are sworn.
2021-06-16
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Tibetan Exile MPs Sworn in Amid Political Controversy The Tibetan exile parliament building in Dharamsala, India, is shown in a file photo.
RFA

Newly elected members of Tibet’s India-based exile parliament were sworn into office in two separate groups on June 8, with each group now  denouncing the other’s oaths as invalid, Tibetan sources say.

During the oath-taking ceremony, 21 MPs took their oath of office from a temporary speaker of the parliament while 22 took their oath before a portrait of Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

All had been elected in an April 11 election held in Tibetan communities worldwide that saw former parliamentary speaker Penpa Tsering voted in as political leader, or Sikyong, of the Dharamsala, India-based Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Tibet’s government in exile.

Following the ceremony, though, the CTA’s Election Commission disqualified the oaths taken by the second group, with that group still refusing to take its oaths before the pro-tem speaker, Dawa Tsering, saying Tsering had taken his own oath of office before a formerly ousted Chief Justice now occupying his post, they said, unlawfully.

Speaking on June 15 in an RFA TV talk show, Dawa Phunkyi—a member representing Tibet’s historical region of U-Tsang who took his oath before the pro-tem speaker Dawa Tsering—said that a solution to what is now being called a constitutional crisis in the Tibetan exile community remains uncertain.

“At the moment, the issue is about the legitimacy of both of the oath-taking ceremonies,” Phunkyi said. “However, I believe that the May 27 swearing-in ceremony of the new Sikyong Penpa Tsering in the presence [virtual] of His Holiness the Dalai Lama could have shown us the way forward.”

“As elected MPs, we could have just gone ahead with the process and then resolved the constitutional crisis later,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, newly elected MP Dorji Tsetan, who took his oath of office before the portrait of the Dalai Lama, called the current disagreements among the MPs typical of the controversies that can arise in functioning democracies.

“But solutions can always be found for any issue through dialogue,” Tsetan said.

Constitutional crisis

“This is a constitutional crisis, but both sides are trying to protect and uphold the Tibetan Charter,” which sets out guidelines for the legitimacy of parliamentary procedures, Tsetan said.

“We did hold discussions to find a solution before the oath-taking ceremony was held, but each side was adamant about its position.”

On March 25, the exile government’s Chief Justice Minister Sonam Norbu Dagpo and two other justice commissioners, Karma Damdul and Tenzin Lungtok, were dismissed by the parliament then seated, following accusations that the trio had interfered in the internal proceedings of the legislature.

The justices resumed their duties after a two-month hiatus, and speaker of parliament Pema Jungney—who had led the firing of the justices—resigned both as speaker and as a member of parliament on April 8.

Confirmed on May 14 after the April vote and installed on May 27, Tibet’s new exile political leader PenpaTsering replaced Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard-trained scholar of law, who had served two consecutive five-year terms as Sikyong, an office filled by candidates elected since 2011 by popular vote.

The May 14 election results also named 45 members of the unicameral exile parliament for its 17th session, with 10 candidates representing each of Tibet’s three traditional provinces—U-Tsang, Kham, and Amdo—and two representatives from each of Tibet’s four major schools of Buddhism and the pre-Buddhist Bon religion.

Two members were voted in to represent each of the exile Tibetan communities in North and South America and Europe, and one from Australia and Asia, excluding India, Nepal, and Bhutan.

The Tibetan diaspora is now estimated to include about 150,000 people living in 40 countries, mainly India, Nepal, North America, and in Europe.

Formerly an independent nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, following which the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India and other countries around the world.

Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the Tibetan region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity, and subjecting Tibetans to persecution, torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killings.

Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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