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Judging Politicians

In Malaysia on September 3, 2008 at 9:22 pm

(from the department-of-the-not-so-blind)

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Erasmus – Dutch philosopher & scholar (1466 – 1536)

Although Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam is not popular today, during the Reformation he was known as ‘Prince of the Humanists’.

Nearly 500 years ago, Erasmus knew that ideas and deep-seated beliefs are more dangerous, and harmful, than the individuals behind such misleading ideas. Similiarly, Prime Ministers of Malaysia may come and go – whether it was Mahathir, is Badawi, and might be Anwar – their practises and ideas last longer than their administration. And if they are wrong, the damage to Malaysia is that much greater.

From this perspective, I read Mahathir’s post on chedet.com, “The So-Called Eminent Persons Panel” referring to a panel of Commonwealth judges empanelled to, I think, investigate the events leading to the dismissal of Tun Salleh Abbas as Lord President of the then Federal Court of Malaysia. In it, Mahathir argues that he was not responsible for the sacking of our Lord President in 1988. Instead, he put the blame on our King.

4. It was the Agong who complained against Tun Salleh for writing two letters, one to complain about the noise made in repairing the Agong’s residence and one alleging that the then Prime Minister was undermining the independence of the judiciary. Both letters were extended to all the Rulers which the Agong regarded as putting pressure on him. He found the letters offensive and against the Malay custom in which the customary thing to do was to have an audience with his Majesty and to make verbal complaints. The letters could follow but should be to him alone. He then requested me as PM to remove Tun Salleh as Lord President.

5. In keeping with the provisions of the Constitution a Tribunal was set up. But Tun Salleh tried to stop the Tribunal from doing its work and reporting to the King.

What Mahathir failed to say in point 5 was, and a greater truth is, this: “… in keeping with provisions of the law, Tun Salleh challenged the legality of the Tribunal but failed.”

Mahathir now fears that he may be found to have acted wrongly on this matter in 1988, and tries to defend himself by saying this panel of Commonwealth judges are ‘extra-legal’.

6. Now the Bar Council is resorting to extra-legal means to vilify me …

If you’re not familiar with legalese, what just happened on his blog is that, our ex-Prime Minister, Mahathir is now using the very same principles that Tun Salleh used but failed.

If it wasn’t so ironic and fitting, I would’ve believed that Shakespeare did some time-travel and wrote his latest piece on how not to live one’s life and be very, very careful of your legacy. Because it might come back to haunt you.

Mahathir is in fact very afraid he acted in excess of his powers as Prime Minister and, worse, the current administration is now going to do the same to him. I guess this is what they mean when they say, being afraid of your own shadow (and ideas!).

More importantly, should we pre-judge this panel of Commonwealth judges, as our eminent blogger Rocky, seem to suggest, or should we open our eyes and not be blind anymore?

Many years ago, I did open my eyes, and though trained as a lawyer I had to leave home because I knew I could not participate in our judicial system post Tun Salleh Abbas.

I refuse to follow this one-eyed Jack now that I am home.

PS. For what it’s worth: Our common law system is such that judges should not decide on what arguments to use in a hearing, merely to decide on the merits of each argument as presented by opposing advocates. Under such circumstances, and subject to the mandate of the tribunal, the issue should be whether Badawi’s administration has the authority to setup this panel of Commonwealth judges.

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  1. […] One final question: Which side of history do you want to be on? The truth, or the other side – like one of our leaders who failed to uphold the principles of justice and now seek to regain some semblance of a legacy? […]

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