Breaking silence, Dr Mahathir explains why Tommy Thomas became AG despite Malay protest, says got on well during tenure too

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he decided on Thomas who had been recommended to him for the country’s top legal post as he ‘thought it would be a good thing if the AG is not a Malay’. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he decided on Thomas who had been recommended to him for the country’s top legal post as he ‘thought it would be a good thing if the AG is not a Malay’. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 3 ― Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today finally spoke up on what Tan Sri Tommy Thomas had written in a book about him, and defended his appointment of the latter as the attorney general (AG) during the Pakatan Harapan administration despite objections from many Malays.

The former prime minister said he decided on Thomas who had been recommended to him for the country’s top legal post as he “thought it would be a good thing if the AG is not a Malay”.

“At that time I was disillusioned with a number of Malay AG who were prepared to obey the Prime Minister (Najib) even when instructed to do something obviously wrong,” Dr Mahathir said in a lengthy blog post just days after the release of Thomas’ “tell all” memoir.

“When I became the 7th Prime Minister, I decided to appoint Tommy Thomas. I knew Malays would not like it. But the Malay AGs had not been true to their profession. I was prepared to face criticisms from the Malays. But I could not stop my Malay critics from condemning me over Tommy Thomas’ appointment as AG,” the Langkawi MP added.

Dr Mahathir said prominent private lawyers Zainur Zakaria and Datuk Seri Ambiga Sreenevasan approached him together with Thomas before he became prime minister a second time in May 2018.

Dr Mahathir said it was Zainur who recommended Thomas for the attorney general post.

He added that he decided on Thomas as he was disillusioned with the Malays who had been appointed to the position in the past.

Thomas was announced as the attorney general in June 2018 after his appointment was agreed to by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Dr Mahathir also said he got on well with Thomas when the latter was attorney general and he was generally satisfied with the latter’s work.

Dr Mahathir also commented specifically on the dropping of charges against those alleged to be supporters of the now-defunct Sri Lankan group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), noting that he had as prime minister notified then Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin about the matter.

“I was generally satisfied with Tommy’s work. He explained to me that there was no case against the so-called supporters of LTTE.

“I accepted his explanation and wrote to Muhyiddin, the Minister of Home Affairs. He dropped the case. The anger of the Malays against me was terrible,” Dr Mahathir said.

However, Dr Mahathir claimed that Thomas was once one of the lawyers who had “hated” him.

Dr Mahathir said that he had defended Thomas during the latter’s tenure as attorney general, noting that Thomas had himself said he would resign as attorney general.

“During the time when Tommy Thomas was AG. I got on quite well with him. He would see me for all major issues. I trusted him and defended him when Malays condemned him. His term was ending. I recommended a Tan Sri-ship for him.

“PAS never directly asked me to drop him. But I had taken so much bashing because of him that I felt he should not continue after ending his term.

“But when I resigned as Prime Minister he came to see me to inform me that since I appointed him and since I was no longer PM he should also resign,” he said in his blog post.

Tan Sri Tommy Thomas had on February 28, 2020 resigned as attorney general, just four days after Dr Mahathir resigned as prime minister. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Tan Sri Tommy Thomas had on February 28, 2020 resigned as attorney general, just four days after Dr Mahathir resigned as prime minister. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Thomas had on February 28, 2020 resigned as attorney general, just four days after Dr Mahathir resigned as prime minister.

Thomas’ resignation was several months ahead of the end of his two-year term in June 2020. He had been awarded the “Tan Sri” title in September 2019 in conjunction with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s birthday.

Previously in reports of excerpts from Thomas’ book My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, the former attorney general reportedly said that he could have been the attorney general for just a single day, due to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s concern about the “scale and magnitude of the Malay opposition” to his appointment in June 2018.

Thomas had among other things suggested that a PAS press statement which did not object to his appointment had helped change Dr Mahathir’s mind and enabled him to keep the job in June 2018, but was also reported claiming that Umno and PAS had in February 2020 wanted him removed as attorney general as part of conditions in exchange for cooperation with Dr Mahathir.

Malaysiakini said Dr Mahathir then was attempting to have a unity government established, and Thomas had in his memoir claimed that Dr Mahathir intended not to renew his contract as attorney general upon its June 2020 expiry and that the then interim prime minister believed that Umno and PAS would agree to such a date.

In his memoir, Thomas reportedly said that he decided to resign as attorney general on February 28, as he wished to do so while Dr Mahathir still held the prime minister role as he felt it would soon change.

The next day, Istana Negara announced that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would be sworn in as prime minister. Muhyiddin was sworn in as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister the day after — March 1.

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