Tunku on the Removal of Tun Salleh Abas
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FOREWORD to "MAYDAY FOR JUSTICE"
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj
The First Prime Minister Of Malaysia
This book tells the most shocking story in modern legal and judicial
As one of the architects of the Malaysian Constitution, I must say it
never occurred to the Constitutional Commission headed by Lord Scott Reid,
that the day would come when the Head of the Judiciary, the Lord President,
would be faced with charges of conduct unbecoming of a judge.
There are special provisions in the Constitution for removing judges
from office, but there is no specific provision in the Constitution for the
removal of a Lord President himself. The thought was and is repugnant to
any man of the law.
Yet today we are lumbered with a judiciary of the most extraordinary
character, created as a direct result of the disaster which overtook the
Most Honourable Justice Tun Mohamed Salleh bin Abas, Lord President of
the Courts of Malaysia, who was accused of misbehaving himself, and removed.
A man does not climb that long ladder to the pinnacle of our judicial
system without proving himself every inch of the way to be upright, and
extremely fastidious about his honour. His integrity must have been
proven again and again in his judicial actions, his private life and all his
work in the public domain. Any man who was any less than that could not have
even approached that position which, by its very nature, presupposes
character of the greatest probity and rectitude. The very act of
appointing such a man means that he is beyond reproach.
Yet, exactly such a man was accused of misbehaviour as a judge! He was
publicly humiliated and then removed from his post on what I can only
describe as trumped-up charges.
Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas, a man of humble origins - his father was a sailor
and small village trader - rose to become the highest judge in the land through
sheer hard work, a proven dedication to service and a great love for the law.
He is also known to be a scholarly man, and a deeply religious Muslim.
I will not try to tell his story even in summary because this volume tells it all
clearly and as truthfully as it is possible without breaking the laws covering
official secrets, sedition and libel - though the disgraceful events surrounding
his dismissal invited comments which courted all these dangers.
That the Lord President was wronged was obvious not only to the
intellectuals in the country and many countries abroad but also to the
average man in Malaysia. I myself repeatedly objected to the action
against the Lord President and the way the Tribunal to remove him was conducted.
There were a great many protests by many learned men and women against
the action by the Government, but these were ignored by the authorities as
well as the frightened press and mass media.
The world, nevertheless, found out what was going on. Condemnation of
the affair from across the world made shameful reading. But I must say that
the enormity of the travesty of justice perpetrated in order to remove
Tun Salleh (and two other Supreme Court Judges) is disclosed in these pages
in such detail, with such penetrating insights, that it will surely further
shock and scandalize the civilised world.
Episode after episode in the book shows the spiritual corruption, the
cynicism, the moral turpitude, the viciousness and the horrible
ruthlessness which attended the exercise of falsely accusing him,
hastily putting him before a Tribunal of questionable character and quickly
removing him from office.
I do not know how any honourable government can stay in office after
this book has been published. It constitutes a denunciation which cannot be
answered without confessing to the most dishonourable conduct in public life.
In my time I participated in and witnessed a great many dramatic events
in the national life. There were great days and there were tragic ones,
there were days of high euphoria and days of great sorrow, there were days to
be proud of and some days to be ashamed of. But nothing that happened in
all those years from 1955 to 1970 when I headed the Government, or in the
days of Tun Abdul Razak who succeeded me and later in the years of Tun
Hussein Onn, nothing occurred in all those years that so sullied the fair name
of this country so completely as this sordid affair: it struck a terrible
blow, not only to the independence of the Malaysian Judiciary - and
ruined the careers of at least three honourable men - but to national pride
itself. This affair has disillusioned and demoralised many lawyers. It
has severely damaged the people's faith in the law and brought several
judges into disrepute. It will take a long time for us to recover from the
horror and shame of this episode.
Our judges are the guardians of the Constitution and thus our democratic
system of Government. When they lose their independence our precious
freedoms are at once threatened. And our judges were indeed deprived of
their independence in the year 1988. We are therefore in grave danger
We must take care not to allow the mere appearance of security to lull
us into believing that because there appears to be no immediate physical
danger, all is well. it is not true. As the Malay people say, "Apabila
air tenang, jangan disangka tiada buaya " (Because the water is still, do
not think there are no crocodiles below.)
It was not always like this.
Our independence started off very well because of our fairness, our
integrity and our honesty. We take pride in the fact that we were the
only country in Southeast Asia which won the battle against the communists
fairly and squarely. We beat President Sukarno of Indonesia in his plan
to "Crush Malaysia" and we kept the Philippines from pursuing their claim
to Sabah. We established ASEAN as an organisation and brought better
understanding not only among these peoples of Southeast Asia but also
among other countries.We even helped President Ngo Dinh Diem keep the
communists out of Vietnam and develop Vietnam on the same basis as we
had developed Malaysia. (But the Americans took up the fight and changed
tactics, and the Vietnam war ended tragically).
Times have changed.
This terrible episode of sacking the Lord President should.serve as a
lesson to the people of Malaysia as well as to people in many developing
countries where judicial independence is seen by those who wield power
only as an inconvenience and a threat to what they arrogantly believe is
their God-given right to do as they please.
The way I look at it, they have have made a martyr of Tun Salleh and he
deserves to be honoured and respected as such. What happened to him may
prevent others in this country from suffering the same fate.
What is written in this book will be a lesson to young Malaysians who
have a long way to go. Let us try do what is right for the future
generations. I sincerely hope this story is widely read and always
remembered by the people.
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra
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