Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Abdullah has little to gain from judge’s charges

The Malaysian Insider (June 12, 2008)

When news of High Court judge Datuk Ian Chin’s stunning allegations against Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad reached the corridors of power in Putrajaya on Tuesday, there were no smiles or back slapping celebration.

Yes, the chief critic of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was in the dock again for interfering with the judiciary. Yes, this was further evidence that Dr Mahathir’s legacy of 22 years will forever be pockmarked by his treatment of the country’s most important institutions.

But Abdullah and his Cabinet ministers, especially those from Umno, realised that there would be little to be gained by dissecting what the country’s longest-serving High Court judge had to say about the former prime minister. Conversely, any move to show support for Chin’s allegations would have damaged Abdullah among ruling party members ahead of the important branch and division elections.

As a result, the PM shot down the idea of setting up a royal commission to investigate the allegations as did Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, the de facto Law Minister, who has in the past few weeks enjoyed jousting with Dr Mahathir and his supporters over judicial reform.

Abdullah and Zaid said that there was no need to dig up the past as the government had already decided to improve the judiciary.

To recap, this is what Chin alleged. He said that Dr Mahathir once threatened to sack judges if he was displeased with their rulings, and that the former prime minister targeted him after he refused to give what he considered an astronomical award in two libel cases in 1997.

Chin spewed the allegations at the Sarawak High Court on Monday just before hearing a dispute over the general election results. He also disclosed that when Dr Mahathir was the prime minister, judges were sent to boot camp to indoctrinate them into delivering verdicts favourable to the government.

These disclosures come barely a month after the royal commission report on the V.K. Lingam video clip was made public. The commission slammed lawyer Lingam, former minister Tengku Adnan Mansor, businessman Vincent Tan for fixing the appointment and promotion of judges. It also implicated Dr Mahathir and accused him of not following the constitutional process of consulting the Chief Justice before making appointments to the Bench.

The saturation coverage given to the commission’s findings by the newspapers did not go down well with Umno members and other pockets of the Malay community. They did not like the fact that Malay personalities — Dr Mahathir, former Chief Justices Tun Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim and Tun Eusoff Chin — were being humiliated in public.
This sentiment came through clearly during closed-door sessions between Abdullah and his party officials since the commission’s report was made public. As far as Umno members are concerned, the administration fell into a trap set by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim by setting up a royal commission to investigate the Lingam video clip. The clip was released by Anwar in June last year.

Umno members are also unimpressed with Zaid’s zeal to reform the judiciary, wondering why so much energy is being expanded in this area. Perhaps this indifference among party members to the state of the judiciary is a legacy of the Mahathir era, where the culture of patronage and easy money trumps over other considerations.

Several Cabinet ministers and Umno supreme council also believe that Dr Mahathir didn’t do anything wrong by listening to Lingam and Tan before appointing or promoting judges. Against this backdrop, any move by Abdullah to investigate Chin’s allegations would have been unpopular within Umno, and may have invited political consequences for the PM.

That is why the PM hit the “let’s move on’’ button. Still, within the Mahathir camp there is no doubt that Abdullah or at least his supporters are behind the Chin bombshell. They believe that this is part of a continuing campaign to damage Dr Mahathir’s legacy and sow the seeds of hatred against the former prime minister.

Dr Mahathir’s is likely to respond to Chin’s allegations soon. And his statements or account of events in 1997 are not going to be challenged by Abdullah or his ministers.

No comments: