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Job Descriptions of the Kalon Tripa and Chitue

posted Sep 24, 2010, 6:42 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Oct 6, 2010, 7:22 PM ]
By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review

With the fast-approaching primary election on October 3, when Tibetans will choose the official candidates for Kalon Tripa and Chitue, the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review has attempted to summarize the job descriptions for these two positions.  It is our hope that clarity on these offices' responsibilities will help voters better evaluate the candidates.

These job descriptions are derived from the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile, which is the constitution of the Tibetan government in exile.  These are simply our interpretations, and any discrepancy with the actual text of the Charter should, of course, be resolved in favor of the Charter.  

I.  Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister)


1.  Formal Power

The formal role of the Kalon Tripa is primarily administrative.  He/she heads the Kashag, the highest executive body of the Tibetan government in exile.  Therefore, to understand the formal power of the Kalon Tripa requires understanding the power of the Kashag (Cabinet).

The executive power of the Tibetan government is ultimately vested in His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the head of state.  According to the Charter, the Kashag is “primarily responsible for exercising the executive powers of the Tibetan Administration,” under the “leadership of His Holiness.”  Today, with His Holiness’ stated desire to “retire” from politics, the Kashag has been moving towards a model of constitutional monarchy (e.g. Britain and Thailand), where the government exercises power in the name of the Crown.

The Kashag Members , Lhasa, 1937
(Tethong Shape, Bhondong Shape, Kalon Lama Champa Tendar, and Langchunga Shape)

The Charter specifies the following executive powers that the Kashag may exercise in the name of His Holiness:

1.      approve and promulgate bills and regulations passed by the Parliament

2.      promulgate acts and ordinances with the force of law (these are not laws, but rather executive orders)

3.      confer honors and appointments (e.g. appoint the heads of the Offices of Tibet)

4.      Summon and adjourn Parliament

5.      Send messages to or address Parliament

6.      Dissolve or suspend Parliament

7.      Dissolve the Kashag or remove a Kalon

8.      Authorize referendums

9.  Prepare an annual budget for Parliament's approval  

10.  Assent to Parliament’s introduction of a bill involving an expenditure, tax, or indebtedness by the Tibetan government

11.  Summon a Special General Meeting of the Tibetan People (with the assent of His Holiness, the Speaker of Parliament, and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament)

The Kashag does not have independent law-making power, which requires Parliamentary action.  The Charter states that the Kashag shall formulate “regulations concerning the transaction of administrative business, rules and regulations, and the making of decisions” by the Kashag.  However, the Charter also states that “those laws shall come into force” only with the approval of Parliament and His Holiness.

In connection with the Kashag’s power as described above, the Kalon Tripa is primarily responsible for presiding over meetings of the Kashag.  Therefore, the Kalon Tripa has the power to set the agenda and guide the decision-making process.  In this way the Kalon Tripa has the power to exercise overall leadership over the direction and policy of the Tibetan government and bureaucracy.  However, as discussed further below, formal policy-making requires legislation, which can only be passed by Parliament.

The Kalon Tripa also has the power, subject to parliamentary approval, to appoint the other seven members of the Kashag (the Cabinet), who are known as Kalons and who hold the portfolios of Education, Finance, Health, Home, Information and International Relations, Religion and Culture, and Security.  The Kalon Tripa may also seek to remove a Kalon, but only with the support of a majority of Parliament and two-thirds of the Kashag, as well as His Holiness' assent. 


2.  Informal Power

In addition to the formal power described above, the Kalon Tripa today has increasing informal power due to the growing prominence of the office.  This stems from the fact that the current Kalon Tripa, Samdhong Rinpoche, can claim a mandate as the first directly-elected leader of the Tibetan people, second in political prominence only to His Holiness.

As time passes, and with His Holiness continuing to press the Tibetan people to take more responsibility for their own political affairs, one can see the office of Kalon Tripa becoming similar to a prime minister in a constitutional monarchy: i.e. the leader of the national government, under a head of state who is largely removed from politics.  As such, the Kalon Tripa will have a growing role as the democratically-elected leader of the Tibetan people, with the moral authority and unifying responsibility that such a role involves.


3.  Our View of the Job Requirements 

The Kalon Tripa serves as the head of the executive branch of the Tibetan government.  He/she should be a strong administrator, overseeing the Kalons who head the various departments of the Tibetan government.  A successful Kalon Tripa should have the ability to effectively run meetings, set agendas, manage bureaucracies and civil servants, balance competing (and sometimes clashing) interests and personalities, and have a deep understanding of the budget process.  

More broadly, he/she should have the vision necessary to be a strong leader: the ability to think strategically and to identify problems before they manifest, the ability to see and plan for the needs of the future, and the ability to mobilize the government bureaucracy and people towards solving those goals.  
Above all, the Kalon Tripa must have a “steady hand” in times of both opportunity and crisis.

In addition to the Kalon Tripa’s responsibilities within the Tibetan government, he/she will also be increasingly looked to as the leader of the Tibetan people, second only to His Holiness.  A successful Kalon Tripa must be able to unify the Tibetan people, and not be an unnecessarily polarizing figure to any significant section of the population.  He/she must be able to communicate effectively with the people to explain the priorities of his/her administration, as well as to listen to popular feedback.   

Internationally, the Kalon Tripa will have an increasingly prominent role.  He/she should have the stature and gravitas to represent the Tibetan people on the international stage, toe-to-toe with world leaders.  He/she should also have a good understanding of China, and the ability to develop good relations with Indian leaders.  He/she should also have an excellent grasp of English (the global lingua franca) and, perhaps, Chinese and Hindi as well.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly from a religious perspective, the Kalon Tripa must have the karma and merit to serve His Holiness and have daily contact with Him.  After all, as Kalon Tripa, he/she will head the government in the name of His Holiness.



II.  Chitue (Mmber of Parliament)


1.  Power


The role of a Chitue is primarily as a law-maker.  A Chitue is a member of the Parliament (the Tibetan Assembly, or Chitue Lhantsok).  Each Chitue has the right to introduce any bill or legislation, or propose any amendment, as prescribed by the Parliament’s rules.

According to the Charter, all legislative power and authority rests with the Parliament, subject to the formal requirement to seek His Holiness’ assent as head of state.  This includes the power to:

1.      Pass legislation (subject to the other restrictions below)

2.      Amend the Charter, with a two-thirds vote

3.      Discuss, assent to, reduce, or reject the Kashag’s annual budgetary proposal (with a few subjects excepted)

4.      Pass legislation dealing with a tax or indebtedness by the Tibetan government, subject to the Kashag’s assent

5.      Set the salary of the Kalon Tripa and Kalons, as well as of the Chitues themselves

6.      Remove a Kalon, with a two-thirds vote

7.      Remove the Chief Justice Commissioner, with a two-thirds vote

8.      Relieve His Holiness of His executive functions, with a three-fourth vote and in consultation with the Supreme Justice Commission (this is sometimes mis-interpreted as "impeachment," which it is not; His Holiness would remain Dalai Lama, with all religious power intact, but His executive function in the government would be exercised by a Council of Regency)


2.  Our View of the Job Requirements


The Chitue serves as a member of the Tibetan government’s highest law-making body.  The Parliament has the power to pass laws that define the Tibetan government’s policies.  A Chitue must have an understanding of the legislative process, including parliamentary rules and the drafting of laws.  For this role, a legal background would be a strong asset. 

Additionally, the Chitue should have a familiarity with the budget process, because one of the key responsibilities of Parliament is to approve the budget of the Tibetan government.  A Chitue must also have the wisdom necessary to hold the power to vote to remove the Justice Commissioner or a Kalon, and even to relieve His Holiness' executive function.

members would ideally bring to this body a willingness to explore new ideas and new ways of approaching problems.  The Parliament is a place for debate, and it benefits from having members who are willing to think “outside the box” in innovative ways.  Such unorthodox ideas might involve risk if implemented directly, but they can be debated, revised, improved, or rejected by other parliamentarians.  In this way, the lawmaking process can be revitalized by the injection of new and innovative ideas, while being tempered by the need to convince a parliamentary majority.

Lastly, but not least, the Chitue should have a good understanding of, and communication relationship with, his/her constituents.  As a candidate, the Chitue must make clear what laws and policies he/she would advocate.  Once in office, the Chitue should commit to having an "open door policy" where constituents can bring their ideas, problems, and complaints, and the Chitue will do his/her best to resolve them or bring them to the attention of Parliament.