Petition urges Agong to make country’s first East Malaysian chief justice a Tun

The Malaysia First group asked whether former Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum was yet to receive the title that all his peninsula-based predecessors have been given because he was an East Malaysian. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
The Malaysia First group asked whether former Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum was yet to receive the title that all his peninsula-based predecessors have been given because he was an East Malaysian. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 — A civil rights group has proposed that former Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum be conferred the nation’s highest honour that would qualify him to carry the title of Tun.

The Malaysia First group asked whether Malanjum was yet to receive the title that all his peninsula-based predecessors have been given because he was an East Malaysian.

“We congratulate all the recipients of awards, honours and medals on the auspicious occasion of the birthday of His Majesty Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, including current Chief Justice Tan Sri Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat who is awarded the title of Tun.

“However we are dumbfounded with the peculiar record that the immediate former Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard is now both the only head of Judiciary who has hailed from East Malaysia and the only head of Judiciary who is not awarded the title Tun,” it said in a statement.

Malaysia First added that with the exception of the first Lord President of the Supreme Court Tun James Beveridge Thomson, who was born in Scotland, all the subsequent chief justices prior to Malanjum were West Malaysian, and were conferred with the title Tun during their tenure.

“After the King’s birthday this year, Tan Sri Richard stands out further as the only chief justice who is not conferred the title of Tun even after his retirement.

“When Tan Sri Richard was made chief justice in 2018, his appointment was groundbreaking as he was the first chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak promoted to lead the entire Judiciary, when many chief justices/judges of Malaya have made it to the top,” it said.

The group noted that Malanjum had been senior most judge of the Federal Court to fill the vacancy of the chief justice earlier on in August 2017, but was unjustly bypassed.

“His elevation broke the perception that East Malaysians are never fit for the top jobs in the country, no matter how competent they are. More than a peak for a man’s career, it was a milestone for our nationhood, signaling to the sons and daughters of Sabah and Sarawak to know that their regional origin is not a disadvantage to their achievement in life.

“Though late by a year, his rightful promotion debunked the bitter suspicion held by some that Sabah and Sarawak were but the colonies of Malaya, because a son of the colonised land would never be trusted to head the highest court in the land and guard her constitution and laws,” it said.

Malaysia First praised Malanjum’s legacy as the head of the judiciary, despite it being the shortest tenure at 276 days.

“His vision for reforms saw the judiciary embrace technology, the empaneling of judges in the Federal Court via e-balloting, the practice of collective decision making amongst the four office bearers of the judiciary and the promotion of transparency in the judicial appointment process by engaging and consulting with the three Bars of Malaysia,” it said, quoting Sabah Law Society president Brenndon Keith Soh.

Malanjum’s status as the only former chief justice without the title of Tun raises the question of whether non-political East Malaysians are qualified for the highest honour of the land even if they performed excellently.

“Is this the message that Malaysia wants to send to sons and daughters of Sabah and Sarawak in 2020? As the list of award recipients is recommended by the Prime Minister’s Office, is this what Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin meant by his pledge that he would be the Prime Minister for all Malaysians from Perlis to Sabah?

“Malaysia First is greatly saddened by the blatant sidelining of our brilliant former chief justice Tan Sri Richard from being awarded the title of Tun just because he was the only chief justice who hailed from East Malaysia,” said the group.

The online petition will plead for the wisdom of His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to consider Malanjum for in the next list of recipients for the title of Tun.

“We hope Malaysians of all regional, ethnic, religious, linguistic, political, social-economic backgrounds will come forward and make known loud and clear their aspiration for a fair Malaysia, where East Malaysian origin is not a source of impairment.

“We urge all political parties and civil society groups, especially those in Sabah and Sarawak, to amplify the voice of our Era that sidelining a son or daughter of East Malaysia is no longer acceptable,” it said.

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