(The Malaysian Insider) - Something rare happened in Parliament today. A Barisan Nasional MP asked the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to drop a minister from his Cabinet, barely three months after the general election.
The proposer was Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman and his target was de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, the prominent lawyer who has incurred the wrath of some Umno politicians for pushing the envelope on judicial reforms.
Today’s outburst by Tajuddin was a continuation of a spat which began on Thursday when Zaid was giving the House an update on the Judicial Appointments Commission and other reforms in the judiciary. The minister was interrupted by BN backbencher Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir who sarcastically congratulated him for doing the biding of the Opposition. A few other Umno MPs joined in and heckled Zaid, including Tajudin.
The next day, the minister said that Umno and the Barisan Nasional need to take stern action against their members and MPs who openly criticise government policies and the prime minister. His comments were carried in several newspapers and this caught the attention of Tajudin.
Hitting back, he said that Abdullah should "reconsider" Zaid’s appointment as a minister in the Prime Minister's Department. His offence: running down MPs. Zaid should also apologise to himself and Mukhriz and retract statements in the newspaper. He denied that he had made statements which were insulting to the prime minister or which were against government's policy. All he offered was a frank view on the government’s plan to set up a judicial commission. "I don't understand how it can be misconstrued as going against the prime minister. I am very upset with such an irresponsible statement from Zaid. It does not reflect the standing of an executive," Tajuddin said.
"Ministers are part of the executive and must be willing to accept constructive criticism whether it is from the Opposition or from the backbenchers. I can agree with the Opposition but that does not mean that I will be one.
"I support this commission. I support that judicial appointments has to be transparent I want the appointments to be done properly. But what I also want is for the prime minister to remain strong and powerful," referring to a concern by Umno MPs that the judicial commission will usurp the power of the PM to appoint and promote judges.
Zaid has assured legislators that members of the commission will draw up a list of candidates and then recommend them to the PM, who will have the final say in who sits on the Bench. Tajudin said that while he accepted that it was the right of the PM to select ministers, he wanted Abdullah to re-examine Zaid's appointment as minister.
"I've been in Umno for more than 30 years and I was even detained under the ISA. How long has Zaid been in Umno?" he said, adding that the minister was abroad during the elections. The Malaysian Insider has learnt that Zaid returned to Malaysia four days before polling day on March 8.
This will not be the last time that the de facto law minister is attacked in Parliament by one of his own party men. Some of them are uneasy over Abdullah’s agenda, believing that it will lead to the dilution of Malay power.