(TibetanReview.net, Mar24’23) – An urgently needed amendment to the Charter of Tibetans in Exile for relaxing the qualifications of a candidate for appointment as a Justice Commissioner of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission (TSJC) failed to win the requisite two-thirds majority support at the ongoing session of the 17th Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) on Mar 23.
Also, a questionable amendment to the Charter designed to partly offset a debilitating effect of the absence of a Chief Justice Commissioner of the TSJC to administer oath for the appointment of the heads of the major functionaries of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) met the same fate. This could stymie the effective functioning of the CTA in the near future.
The TSJC currently has only an Acting Chief Justice Commissioner and he is due to retire in the middle of this year, besides another justice commissioner, as against its Charter-authorized strength of three.
An amendment to the Charter became necessary as an ad hoc committee previously constituted to recommend candidates for election by the TPiE as a justice commissioner of the TSJC failed to find any candidate who fulfilled the qualifications prescribed by the Charter.
A bill to accordingly amend the Charter was introduced by the Kashag (Cabinet), but it failed muster the requisite number of votes in the TPiE. The opposing members insisted that so long as Resolution No. 39 of the previous TPiE was not acted upon, they would oppose every Charter amendment and other proposals concerned with the TSJC.
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A debilitating effect of the absence of a Chief Justice Commissioner of the TSJC would be the absence of anyone to administer oath to the heads of the major functionaries of the CTA, which could become dysfunctional as a result of it in the near future. In order to overcome this problem, another amendment to the Charter was tabled by the Standing Committee of the TPiE.
This amendment, if adopted, would have rendered it all right for the Sikyong and the Kalons, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, other members of the TPiE, the Chief Justice Commissioner and the other Justice Commissioners, the Chief Election Commissioner, the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, and the Auditor General of the Office of the Auditor of the CTA to take their oath of office before a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a Mani Kabum scripture in the absence of the Chief Justice Commissioner.
The controversial amendment would dispense with the requirement of anyone to administer the oath of office.
More pointedly, during the course of the debate, Sikyong Penpa Tsering felt that the amendment appeared to be designed to marginalize and render irrelevant the existence of the TSJC and therefore expressed his inability to support it.
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At the heart of the dispute is Resolution No. 39 passed by the 16th TPIE in Mar 2021. The resolution summarily dismissed in a brief, rushed sitting all the justice commissioners of the TSJC – supposedly one of the three equal pillars of Tibetan democracy – without even following an impeachment procedure.
The TPiE’s action followed the TSJC’s imposition of a limited penalty on the members of the Standing Committee of the TPiE for having violated the Charter by not calling a meeting of the TPiE within six months of its previous session.
The justice commissioners initially resigned following the resolution, but, then, returned to their posts in order to avoid a constitutional breakdown as there was no one to administer oath to the newly elected Sikyong and the members of the 17th TPiE.
The Sikyong then duly took his oath of office from the returned Chief Justice Commissioner. But a section of the elected candidates to the 17th TPiE refused, calling the justice commissioners illegal.
The months-long crisis was sought to be overcome by seeking the intervention of HH the Dalai Lama in keeping with his Charter-mandated advisory role. He in turn suggested that the elected candidates take their oath as prescribed by the Charter.
The recalcitrant elected candidates duly took their oath from the Speaker who had been administered his oath by the Chief Justice Commissioner. However, they then continued to insist that the justice commissioners were illegal and kept thwarting every Charter amendment move concerned with the justice commission of CTA so long at the current justice commissioner of the TSJC continued on their posts.
The Chief Justice Commissioner has since superannuated while the Acting Chief Justice Commissioner is due to do so in the middle of this year. And the crisis continues while the remaining justice commissioner has a long tenure ahead of him.