- Early this morning, veteran lawyer Tommy Thomas was confirmed as Malaysia’s new Attorney General, with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong finally consenting to Tun Mahathir’s advice after an elongated disagreement.
- There was much speculation as to the reason for the impasse, with various reports claiming the disagreement to stem from concerns such as race, religion, and prior experience.
Early this morning, it was announced that after a lot of speculation, our Yang di-Pertuan Agong has finally consented to install Tommy Thomas as Malaysia’s new Attorney General (or AG for short).
Ever since Mohamed Apandi was placed on gardening leave on May 15, Malaysia was without a proper AG to provide judicial counsel to the government and get legal reforms underway.
Put simply, without an AG, Malaysia was unable to move forward with any plans for prosecution against the many scandals and corruption cases (1MDB for example) that were unearthed in the aftermath of GE14—a situation that required rectifying, and fast.
So acting on the situation, a decision was made by the ruling coalition lead by PM Mahathir to elect to the position of AG Tommy Thomas, a lawyer of 40 years known for his legal representation of Lim Guan Eng as well as various Barisan Nasional members, and his outspoken belief in Malaysia being a secular state among others.
But even with the decision made, the filling of that vacuum remained in doubt, with reports from various news sources stating that a major obstacle had appeared in the form of Malaysia’s monarch, or rather his lack of consent.
As the story went, PM Tun Mahathir had recommended the installation of Tommy Thomas as the new Attorney General, but Malaysia’s Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V would seemingly have none of it.
So What Caused The Hold Up?
In earlier reports, there was a suggestion of our rulership being not too keen on the idea of having a non-Malay or non-Islamic individual taking the seat, leading to rumours of Malaysia’s royalty acting on sentimentality centred around Malay or Islamic supremacy.
But according to other sources close to the palace, there was a different reason for the delay—the apparent request by the Agong for a wider list of candidates to choose from, with experience being the preferred criterion for candidacy. If speculation is to be believed, our monarch would have preferred for an individual with actual Federal Court experience (be it current or retired) to take over the position.
To muddy things up further, there were also other reports that posed the possibility of the Malaysian council of rulers wanting an AG that was well-versed in Shariah and Islamic law, even if such knowledge is not an actual prerequisite for the position according to the Malaysian constitution.
All the hearsay and speculation eventually led to public outrage among the Malaysian public, with a large group unhappy at the delays, while some others began raising doubts about Tommy Thomas’ suitability for the role.
But All That Didn’t Matter Because…
Despite what anyone’s—the Agong’s included—attitude towards the potential new appointee might have been (favourably or unfavourably), everything ultimately fell back on the letter of our Federal Constitution.
In article 145 of the constitution (the section that specifically addresses the topic of Malaysia’s Attorney General), it is stated that:
“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall, on the advice of the Prime Minister, appoint a person who is qualified to be a judge of the Federal Court to be the Attorney General for the Federation.”
Deciphering that extract, it’s quite clear that there exists no limitations tied to race, religion, or relative experience when it comes to the appointment of an AG. The only limiting detail within said statement is the necessity for the chosen candidate to be qualified for a position as judge of Malaysia’s Federal Court.
Now looking closer at this caveat, we can then ask: what does it take for one to qualify to become judge of the Federal Court?
If we refer again to our constitution, particularly in article 123, an individual is eligible to become a judge in the federal court so long as he/she is a Malaysian citizen with at least 10 years of prior experience in the judicial or legal service.
Tommy Thomas, a Malaysian with more than 40 years in the field, checked the boxes for this position and that also consequently qualified him for the post of AG.
Move It Along, Then.
Looking at the situation objectively, Tommy Thomas’ candidacy for AG was never really in doubt (barring a last-minute decision by the ruling coalition to pick someone else).
Had the Agong continued to object to the decision, however, his refusal to comply would have be seen as unconstitutional and he potentially would have then been replaced by the Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong (currently Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak) to act in his stead for this particular process.
It’s still early days yet for our new ruling party, and with so much left to tackle, it goes without saying that the consent from our Agong to finally install Tommy Thomas, all without raising any further complications, was the best outcome for all parties involved.
Now with a new AG confirmed, Malaysia can finally begin the institutional and legal reforms that its people have long been calling for.
- To get a full view of the Malaysian Federal Constitution, you can read it in English here.
Feature Image Credit: Orangmuda.tv