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Fwd: MGG - Anwar Saga: Rule Of Law or Rule By Law?
By web aNtu

16/8/2000 11:01 pm Wed

[sangkancil] [MGG] The Anwar Saga: Rule Of Law or Rule By Law?

The Australian magistrate in Brisbane, who tried the UMNO vice president and then Selangor mentri besar, Tan Sri Mohamed Taib, for carrying undeclared foreign currency worth RM2.5 million, acquitted him because he raised sufficient doubts about his understanding of the English language. The benefit of doubt rests, always, with the accused in a system of justice in which the Rule of Law prevails. Better a hundred guilty go free than one innocent be convicted is the guiding factor. In Malaysia, the former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is sentenced, on five counts, four concurrent terms of six years and one of nine, in which this important principle is deliberately denied, the prosecution amending the charges when the defence proved they were manufactured. The Rule of Law is replaced by the Rule By Law. The Prime Minister wanted the man convicted, and the courts and the Attorney-General's Chambers did his bidding.

Since the Prime Minister and his conspirators -- this must be a#sumed when they refused to appear as witnesses in the trial when Dato' Seri Anwar wanted them to, the judges only too happy disallow them, although they agreed to be witnesses for the prosecution -- only wanted him destroyed, not explain why, the sentences raised an international ruckus that was both justified and necessary. The Prime Minister's insistence that those who hold high office must not fall foul of Islamic laws -- and s###my is a particulary heinous crime -- now takes a back seat when the Selangor mentri besar, Dato' Seri Abu Ha#san Omar, is forced to resign for a sexual involvement with his wife's sister, and with whom he had a child, now 12. This is a private matter, he insists, and wants none to discuss it further. It is not. The proof is all there. The DNA tests proved positive, even without the offending mattress. He has committed both khalwat and zina, for which lesser persons are humiliated and sentenced to jail terms in a syariah court. In the Anwar trial, despite the Prime Minister's conviction and all the evidence that must therefore be available, it ensured the further destruction of what little integrity remained of the courts.

The Malaysian government is incensed that the United States Vice President Al Gore, US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Canadian foreign minister Lionel Axelworthy, the Australian government and others are horrified at this patent disregard for the Rule by Law. The Prime Minister, Law Minister Dato' Rais Yatim, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar retaliates in heat, that none should criticise Malaysian institutions, in particular the independence of a judiciary in which judges fit the judgement to fit the prosecution case, in which the chief justice goes on holidays with a favourite lawyer and ensures he gets the decision he wants, writes the judgement in cases where he is asked to recuse. The judges have decided and that is all that matters. The Law has made its decision. The Law is Supreme. The Law must be respected. And pox on any who disagrees. Whatever doubts the defence and the world might have had on how the case was conducted, they are, to use Judge Augustine Paul's favourite word, irrelevant once judgement is pronounced.

They mistake the Rule of Law for Rule by Law. One ensures justice, the other injustice. The Prime Minister destroyed every institution of note in his 19 years in office. The most serious is the judiciary's decline from a once vaunted institution of justice to the parlous state it is in today. Even the pretence of a fair trial is no more. The Anwar Ibrahim trials are only the most prominent. It began when the Prime Minister decided to destroy the then Lord President, and now a state executive councillor in Trengganu, Tun Salleh Abas, who was drummed out of his own court in circumstances that ensured the current malaise. The Prime Minister was uncomfortable then with the Rule of Law, and wanted Rule by Law to prevail. But without an independent and impartial judiciary, the state runs into heavy weather. As in Malaysia. Newly appointed judges are a#signed to important and high profile cases. The judges in both trials involving Dato' Seri Anwar were appointed to the bench to try them. Which is why the Conference of Rulers baulk at appointing new judges -- and it has not since 1998 -- to show its regal contempt at this attempt to subborn justice.

So, the Prime Minister and his point men protesth too much. The more they do, the more dangerous it becomes not only for him but for his administration. The absence of an independent and impartial judiciary already reduces foreign investment to a trickle. Indeed, almost none so far this year. Whether they like it or not, the Anwar Ibrahim convictions represents not just nagging doubts about the judiciary but a high profile example which raises the chilling fear of what could happen even to them should matters go wrong. It does not matter here whether this is false; the perception is otherwise. Indeed, foreign investment to Malaysia has another hurdle to clear: the Mahathir premium. This is a special set of doubts about Malaysia as a place to invest so long as the Prime Minister is in office. The Anwar conviction highlists it. Threatening, without the power or will to carry them out, is not the way to overcome this. Taking drastic steps to take the unpalatable steps to bring the judiciary back to its original respect is one way. But could it when the Prime Minister clings on to office and his nemesis still has several days in courts to weaken his administration, and believes we have the best judicial system in the world?

M.G.G. Pillai