Report: Vacant CJ’s post set to be latest flash point between Putrajaya, royals

Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum speaks during the opening of the legal year 2019 in Putrajaya January 11, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum speaks during the opening of the legal year 2019 in Putrajaya January 11, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 18 — The federal government and the Malay rulers could again tangle over another crucial appointment, with a report suggesting that the latter were holding up the replacement for Tan Sri Richard Malanjum who retired as Chief Justice last week.

The appointment of the country’s most senior judge must gain consent of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to be effective, which it has not, leaving the judiciary leaderless for the time being.

“They (the royals) have kept mum, passing back the message that they are no rubber stamps,” The Straits Times (ST) reported one source close to Istana Negara as saying.

The situation now is similar to the resistance towards Tommy Thomas’s appointment as attorney general last year, which was believed to have been delayed over the then-Agong’s purported concerns about the former’s ability to defend Malay-Muslim interests.

Sultan Muhammad V eventually relented, however, paving way for Thomas to become the first non-Muslim to fill the role of Malaysia’s AG, but the rumblings did not end there.

Muhammad has since abdicated the throne and was succeeded by Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah of Pahang.

The unprecedented mid-term change has also created factions among the state rulers, sources said, making it even more challenging for Putrajaya to advance its position on choices for key roles that require royal assent.

“There seems to be camps among the royals so it will be more difficult to reach a consensus to fill important roles like (that of the) CJ,” one palace official told ST.

Also since Muhammad’s abdication, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his administration has asserted of a planned coup d’etat that ostensibly involves drawing in the Malay rulers to publicly censure him and possibly force his exit.

Dr Mahathir had also appeared set to clash with Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar over the appointment of the state’s mentri besar, but this fizzled out when the PM’s preferred choice was eventually named to the position.

Even Malanjum’s appointment as CJ was not without controversy. The Sabahan replaced Tun Md Raus Sharif, who resigned shortly after the general election, in close proximity to Thomas’ appointment, further fuelling fears the Malay community was losing hold of key institutions.

This time, sources said the Malay rulers will not brook another candidate not from their community.

“There is no way the next CJ is non-Muslim,” one source was quoted as saying.

The CJ’s appointment will be closely watched as it will serve as an indicator of the health of relations between the federal government and the Malay rulers, after public spats over various issues including the abortive bid to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

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