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KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad insisted today that he was not behind the sacking of then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas during the 1988 judicial crisis.
The former prime minister said the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who was the Johor sultan, disliked Salleh after the then chief judge wrote the ruler a letter complaining about the noise coming from renovation works at the ruler’s house nearby, which was copied to all the other sultans.
“The Sultan of Johor, who was Agong, was very annoyed. This was a wrong thing to do, and he asked me to dismiss Salleh Abas,” Dr Mahathir told a forum at the Cooler Lumpur Festival here.
He said a tribunal was then set up and the Attorney-General at the time did not want to mention the Agong’s name, but made Dr Mahathir out to be the main complainant against Salleh instead.
“So he says that it was me, it was I that wanted Salleh Abas to be dismissed, and he dug up somewhere where Salleh Abas made speeches which I didn’t know about. But the speeches were apparently against me; he used those speeches and other things to issue a tribunal to say that Salleh Abas was against the prime minister, and it was the tribunal that decided that he should be dismissed,” said Dr Mahathir.
Dr Mahathir, who was in office from 1981 to 2003, said he has never restricted judges and denied ever talking to them, except to the Lord President who would inform him about official matters like promotions and appointments.
“I don’t talk to them. I never even invite them to my house. I invite the Lord President yes because he was chief, but other prime ministers do invite judges to their functions. I don’t; even for puasa, I don’t. But nevertheless, this label has been given to me and I just cannot get rid of this label,” he said.
Dr Mahathir first made the claim that Salleh was sacked for complaining about the noisy construction work at the Agong’s house in his first autobiography, “A Doctor In The House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad”, published in 2011.
The former Umno president had denied removing the former Lord President, along with five Supreme Court judges, in retaliation when the court declared the party illegal after the 1987 Umno election that saw Dr Mahathir narrowly defeating Kelantan prince Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
“I’ve explained this over and over again — I did not interfere. I’m prepared to go as a Muslim — we swear before Quran and all that.... I didn’t ask anybody to dismiss Salleh Abas. But I got that reputation,” Dr Mahathir said.