Potential crisis defused overnight

  • Analysis
  • Wednesday, 06 Jun 2018

SO many precedents have been set since May 9 and the imminent appointment of Tommy Thomas as the next Attorney General is the latest ground-breaker.

The constitutional law expert has been the newsmaker during the past few days and, for a while, it looked like a long drawn-out standoff between the royals and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in the making over the choice of the new AG.

But yesterday morning, Malay­sians woke up to the news that Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muham­mad V had consented to Thomas’ nomination.

A potential crisis had been defused overnight.

The palace had issued a statement on the decision in the early hours of Tuesday morning, barely two hours after a meeting between the King and PKR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Kota Baru.

Anwar had flown from Kuala Lumpur for the meeting, which began at about 11pm and ended after midnight.

There have been all kinds of speculation about the meeting and whether the palace decision was made in an amicable fashion or under duress.

But it seemed to have been an agreeable meeting, given the speed with which the decision was announced and going by a picture of a formally-dressed Anwar next to Sultan Muhammad in his trademark short-sleeved jubah, both wearing big smiles.

A Kelantan insider said the chief concern among the Malay Rulers revolved around Islam and safeguarding the religion.

Thomas’ reputation as a constitutional lawyer is up there with the late Karpal Singh.

But for the Rulers, he represents a step into the unknown. They are concerned he may be unable to advise them on issues pertaining to syariah law.

It is learnt that Anwar had given his assurance that the Government would continue to safeguard the religion as well as respect the position of the Malays and bumiputras.

It is understood that the King had accepted Anwar’s assurances with an open heart, even though a number of the Malay Rulers remains uncomfortable over the choice of Thomas.

Anwar has managed to position himself as the conduit between the Sultans and the Government in the short time since his royal pardon.

He also seems to have won some degree of trust among the royals after making courtesy calls on the Sultans of Johor, Pahang, Perak and Selangor as well as the Regent of Kelantan.

While Anwar’s political and PR skills played a big part in the conflict resolution, it is also likely that the Malay Rulers have taken note of the new political climate and the fact that they are once again dealing with Dr Mahathir.

There is no automatic approval for appointment of the AG, unlike parliamentary Bills, and the im­passe could have gone on indefinitely.

But the Rulers can see that the Prime Minister is riding an incredible groundswell. They would be fighting a losing battle to take him on at this point in time.

Typical of his motto of “my way or the highway”, Dr Mahathir dug in his heels, declaring that there will only be one name and it was clear that he was not going to budge.

For the royals, it was either to concede to the wishes of the people and bring the issue to a close or go into battle and lose.

Besides, isn’t that how a constitutional monarchy is supposed to be?

At the same time, the Malay Rulers could sense the misgivings of conservative Muslims in having to accept Malaysia’s first Christian and non-bumiputra AG.

The palace addressed that concern when it said that every Malaysian should be treated fairly and that the appointment of Thomas should not cause racial or religious conflict.

According to PKR vice-president Tian Chua, Thomas has been the leading choice for AG right from the very start.

He had been providing legal advice to Anwar as a early as 2013 when Pakatan set its sights on Putrajaya.

Chua said Thomas was also there behind the scenes on the night of May 9, on standby to advise the Pakatan leadership regarding the constitutional aspects of being the incoming government.

“I appreciate the King’s decision to uphold the Constitution, it was the right thing to do. I also commend Dr Mahathir for standing firm.

“I know Tommy, he is eminently qualified and he will be fair and sensitive to the needs of the Malay-Muslim majority,” said Chua.

Thomas is headed for the hot seat, as his predecessor quite rightly put it.

He is famous for speaking the truth in the face of power and he’ll be counted on to do more of the same in his new appointment.

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Opinion , Tommy Thomas , AG


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