AUGUST 30 — Dear Thomas Fann, Chairperson of Bersih:

We are no strangers to each other. Why didn’t you call me directly to ask about my speech at the Umno gathering last Saturday? After all, we have had a respectful professional working relationship for months on the Anti-Hopping Law and I gladly accepted Bersih’s invitation to co-chair the Caucus on Reform Agenda.

I would have thought that our relationship transcends beyond the political realm, and I would have appreciated a call from you as a colleague, or even as a friend. Anyway, since you have made a public statement to express your disappointment in me, I thought that perhaps I should also make a public statement to clarify a few things, just in case you’ve deduced your conclusions based on headlines regarding my speech (like most people do).

I am the same Azalina that you’ve had countless discussions and participation in public forums with. A former law practitioner since 1990, and a lawmaker since 2004, I would be the last to condone any intervention of judiciary by the executive or legislature.

In my speech and my thoughts, I merely held dear to the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” as a basic rule of natural justice.

The legal burden of proof falls on the prosecution to establish their case beyond reasonable doubt, and I believe that denial of a change of legal representation is consequential, in delivering absolute justice. This applies in all cases, including at the appellate courts. Did I ask for YB Pekan to be freed? The answer is a clear no.

I was asked to speak at last Saturday’s gathering as the Legal Advisor to Barisan Nasional and as the Member of Parliament for Pengerang. My short circa 10 minutes speech highlighted only a few things, without getting into too many technical details.

The crux of my speech is to raise the legal right of a citizen of Malaysia, or any citizen of Malaysia for that matter to appeal in the court of law.

Every man and woman has the right to defence and the right to adduce new evidence. Let’s not forget, that the prosecution represents the Government of Malaysia, and therefore YB Pekan’s appeal is technically objected to by the government. The AG is the counsel to the government and therefore is the only person who can support any application.

You accused me of changing my stance on the AG appointment since YB Bera became PM9 and compared it to my statement during YB Pagoh’s tenure as PM8.

When I said “orang dia” in my speech last Saturday, it has got nothing to do with my dearly held stand on the separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislature, as well as the separation of AG and Public Prosecutor.

Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said is pictured at Menara Dato Onn in Kuala Lumpur August 27, 2022. — Bernama pic
Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said is pictured at Menara Dato Onn in Kuala Lumpur August 27, 2022. — Bernama pic

The attorney general (AG), an executive position.

Now back to the contentious issue of the AG. No offence to the current AG. He’s a decent man whom I respect. The position of AG is established under Article 145 of the Federal Constitution, and he is a very powerful officer of the government. He is the chief legal advisor to the Government and represents the government.

The AG is not only part of the Executive, but he is also the highest-ranking public persecutor in the country, who can exercise discretion to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings in most courts in Malaysia, save for Syariah, the native and court martial.

My stand on the separation of the AG is two-pronged:

  1. a political/ ministerial AG who sits in the Cabinet and attends to and be accountable to Parliament, thus answerable to all lawmakers on every decision that he makes and advice he gives to the government, and
  2. a professional Public Prosecutor like in the UK where he is a senior career prosecutor, and not a political appointee, from the rank and file of the prosecution authority.

Why else would I be part of Bersih’s effort in the multi-party reform caucus? Doesn’t this mean that I have the support of my party Umno and that we are consistent on the reform agenda? Let’s not blemish the larger purpose of this caucus with a short speech made at a political gathering.

Perhaps you missed the point Thomas, that when I said “orang dia”, it means putting the political/ ministerial AG in Parliament as I have repeatedly said in past, especially during the imposition of Emergency during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Wouldn’t having a political/ ministerial AG appointed by the prime minister means increased transparency and accountability of the Executive?

By the way, Article 145 as of now does not prohibit the AG to be a law minister or vice versa, who sits in the Cabinet.

This is the scheme of arrangement, in countries spanning from Australia to the UK, and to Canada. I would also like to remind you and the readers here that our nation had two political/ ministerial AG in the past, in the form of Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Yusof and Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah, with Umno heritage no less. It didn’t cause any hysteria as it is today.

Wouldn’t having an accountable political/ministerial AG in Parliament expedite the reform agenda that we want? Many laws can be amended ASAP, to address issues on human rights, citizenship and electoral law reform, including Constitutional amendments without being contingent on the AGC which at present is headed by an AG who is not a member of either House of Parliament.

Is Bersih jumping the gun, or does Bersih in demanding for the split in the role of AG and Public Prosecutor as part of the reform agenda not realised what it demanded?

My question to you is if the Reform Caucus succeeds in bringing reform to separate the AG post, and then the PM decides to appoint a political/ministerial AG in Parliament from the ruling party, would Bersih then object to this decision? Especially if the appointment carries Umno’s DNA?

Sadly, everyone thinks that a new AG appointee will be manipulated to drop criminal charges against its members or be pardoned of all charges. This is not my intention, nor the intention of the Special Meeting held last Saturday. Watch the speeches again for verification, please.

Stand on AG, a dissonance?

OK, let’s address the biggest elephant in the Room. In my speech, did I ask the AG to be removed to free YB Pekan? So that he does not need to face the remaining charges and trial against him?

Didn’t YB Port Dickson received his pardon and released 7 days of PH securing victory in GE14? Or when Tommy Thomas was appointed as AG by PM7, wasn’t he “Orang PH”? So my question to you is, why didn’t Bersih say this then, quote-unquote “By afternoon, our fear of this grave threat to the rule of law was largely confirmed at the .....special meeting at Umno headquarters.

Did you just move the goalpost? Pakatan Harapan’s PM changed the AG and so did Perikatan Nasional’s PM, but a PM from Umno/Barisan Nasional cannot change or replace the AG? Double standards, I reckon.

On to my next point. Does Bersih have a different legal maxim for Umno/BN politicians which is “guilty until proven innocent”? Is it legally forbidden for a Respondent in the Court of Appeal to ask the Prosecutor for time or support a motion to change counsels? Shouldn’t Counsel be allowed to discharge himself even though his solicitors have been terminated on the same day? This sets an unanticipated precedent for all Malaysian lawyers and clients. Time and time again, people hurl accuses on the accused of abusing court processes, but what about the abuse of the right of the accused here? Shouldn’t Bersih uphold the principle of “Every latitude must be given to an accused person to defend his case or himself”?

Lastly, the special meeting last Saturday was an Umno solidarity rally among Umno members, in Umno’s Dewan Merdeka.

You know what Thomas? At the highest level, Umno does not have a mob mentality. We didn’t take it to the streets and cause inconveniences to members of the public.

So Thomas, I really hope that this is a case of “both sides so blinded by their fear and hate of each other that they couldn’t see they were all fighting for the same thing.”

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.