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AWSJ: Appointment of New Federal Judge
By Leslie Lopez

16/11/2000 9:06 am Thu

From Asian Wall Street Journal
15th November 2000

Appointment of New Federal Judge
Raises Hope for Malaysia's Judiciary


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah's appointment as Malaysia's new top judge has won widespread support from the local legal community, raising hopes that it could help repair the battered image of the country's judiciary, lawyers say.

Tan Sri Dzaiddin, a former journalist, was appointed chief justice of the Federal Court, the highest court in the land, on Thursday by Malaysia's Conference of Rulers on the advice of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government. Tan Sri Dzaiddin, who will take office on Dec. 20, succeeds retiring Chief Justice Tun Eusoff Chin, whose term was extended for six months in June.

Tan Sri Dzaiddin, who is 63 years old, was a reporter with Malaysia's Malay Mail daily newspaper before practicing law for 16 years. He became a High Court judge in 1982 and currently serves as a Federal Court justice. Tan Sri Dzaiddin didn't respond to requests for comment on his appointment.

Sulaiman Abullah, president of the Malaysian Bar, said, "We are grateful to the prime minister and the Conference of Rulers for choosing a successor to the top job who commands universal support."

Previous Disputes

Controversies involving the Malaysian judiciary date to 1988, when Dr. Mahathir clashed with the courts over several rulings that went against the government. That confrontation ultimately led to the suspension of six Supreme Court judges and the subsequent removal of three of them, including the then-head of the judiciary.

Over the past two years, criticism of Malaysia's judiciary has intensified, largely due to the widely publicized trials of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, which attracted international scrutiny. Dr. Mahathir's former heir apparent, Datuk Seri Anwar is currently serving jail sentences totaling 15 years for s###my and corruption. Datuk Seri Anwar, who denies any wrongdoing, has maintained that he is a victim of a Mahathir-mandated political conspiracy.

Four international legal organizations, including the International Bar Association, issued a 121-page report in April saying there were "well-founded" concerns about judicial independence in Malaysia. "There is a widespread perception ... that in those cases where the government has an interest, the judiciary is not independent," said the report, which was prepared by a three-member panel led by a judge from Scotland.

Five months ago, controversy swirled again after a public confrontation between Malaysia's law minister and Tun Eusoff over photos posted on the Internet, which depicted Tun Eusoff on vacation in New Zealand in 1994 with a prominent lawyer who appears frequently in Malaysian courts. Law Minister Rais Yatim, when asked to comment on the photos, said at that time that it was "not in keeping with the proper behavior of a judicial personality." Tun Eusoff has insisted that he did nothing wrong.

'Electrifying' News

In any event, that controversy pitted the courts against the Bar Council. The leadership of the Bar Council, which represents 9,000 Malaysian lawyers, has tried to convene special meetings to discuss its concerns over the judiciary. But the proposed meetings have been blocked by Malaysian courts on the grounds that such debates would violate the country's Sedition Act and could erode confidence in the judiciary.

"The news is electrifying," said V. C. George, a retired judge of Malaysia's Court of Appeal and a former chairman of Malaysia's Bar Council, the main body representing the country's lawyers. "One cannot but accept that the credibility of the judiciary has taken a beating in recent years and the appointment of Dzaiddin is definitely a step in the right direction to undo the damage," he said.

"I think we are going to see better relations between the judiciary and the Bar Council," added Param Cumaraswamy, a senior Malaysian lawyer and the United Nations special rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, which monitors judicial developments.

Write to Leslie Lopez at

Untuk menjimatkan 'ruang' pihak Editor kepilkan wawancara Agenda malaysia dengan DSWA.

From AgendaMalaysia
15th November 2000


By Zuraidah Omar

Looking at Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, one can easily imagine her as a beacon, steadfast on a bedrock of inner spiritual strength, radiating courage, resolution and determination over the surrounding seas of the dissatisfied.

Her supporters and followers see, in her small and seemingly vulnerable frame, a rallying point for their own hopes and aspirations for a different type of government for Malaysia. This gracious and soft-spoken lady has become the unifying force for a number of disparate political groups, who are offering themselves to the Malaysian people as Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front, or in short, BA.)

Undeniably a challenging role for someone who just two years ago had been the wife of the country's Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. Her husband is now serving a jail sentence, and she has found herself the president of a fledgling political party, Keadilan, and at the forefront of a movement to present an alternative to the government of today.

Wan Azizah has done well, in the circumstances. At the last general election, she won the parliamentary seat of Permatang Pauh, which was her husband's constituency, and is coming to the end of her first year as a representative of the people. She is proving her mettle in parliament, and her increasing confidence is seen in the way she fields questions from the AgendaMalaysia team.

Having fractured her ankle in a fall in her home, Wan Azizah's movements are a bit impeded. Nonetheless, she was able to participate in a protest rally organised by BA on 5 November, albeit in a wheelchair.

Explaining why the rally was held on a highway, disrupting traffic, causing a massive jam and inconveniencing numerous road users, Wan Azizah said, "The authorities rejected our application to hold the rally in Bukit Jalil and other public venues. So we decided to hold it on a piece of private land. We were on our way there, when the police blockaded the road and we were unable to get to our destination. We were hemmed in and had no choice but to meet on the highway instead."

"We love our country," she goes on to say. "We love justice. People do care and many choose to willingly come to our talks. Our supporters are not paid, and yet they are willing to sacrifice a lot for our cause. During the rally on 5 November, I was very close to the police action, and I am thankful for the protection our supporters gave me so that I was not harmed."

"Our supporters are not hooligans," she insists. "We have a great deal of support from professionals and the middle class. We appeal to the younger generation, and there is a great deal of potential there that needs to be developed. All we want is to be able to voice out our views. The police in some areas understand this and give us some leeway."

Wan Azizah agrees that Keadilan is currently urban-focused, "But the rural people are coming forward. We are hindered in spreading our message because we have no access to the mass media. The people are however realising that the country's economic wealth is not filtering down to them, and their support will come in time.

"The reformasi cry has attracted people's imagination," she adds. "The base has been established and we need to build upon it."

Elaborating on her vision for Keadilan, Wan Azizah says, "We are a multiethnic group with a new political culture, one that is not based on ethnic or religious lines. Our appeal is that we are a party for all peoples dedicated to the sharing of economic power, eradication of poverty, equal educational opportunities, and better health facilities for the people. We need to concretise these, but we are meeting barriers at every step. It is a challenge but we are realistic. To move forward in a restrictive and non-conducive environment is difficult. Voters' sentiments also wax and wane."

Laughing at what she calls her 'rhetoric', Wan Azizah firmly declares, "I truly believe in all that I say. These are values that are in our psyche. They are universal values, and we are all human beings."

Wan Azizah denies that BA is not a realisable option to the present government because of the differing stances of the component parties. "Pas is open to others but this is not publicised," she says. "In Kelantan, for example, the building of new temples and other places of worship is approved. As for the DAP, we have Lim Guan Eng who lost his parliamentary seat because he was jailed for defending the rights of a Malay girl."

She elaborates on the readiness of BA to become the country's government. "We have several shadow bureaus looking at various aspects, and each bureau has a chairman and a coherent structure. We have frequent council meetings, and we meet regularly when parliament is in session. We are not able as yet to form a shadow cabinet because we do not have enough representatives in parliament. But we are working towards the next elections. Should we win, we don't see any problems in governing the country. The mechanisms are all in place, but what the country needs are equitable policies. At the moment, wealth is in the hands of a few."

On Keadilan's place in BA, Wan Azizah concedes that the party does not appear to be prominent. "Pas has more seats in parliament and is the leader of the opposition. Also, we use the opposition leader's room in parliament for our meetings. Keadilan is also a younger party and needs to mature. But then again, I chair all of BA's council meetings, and Keadilan coordinates many of the activities of BA, including the shadow bureaus."

For BA to progress further, she says, "We need to dispel the ingrained perceptions that we have of various personalities. We really need to go beyond personalities."

Wan Azizah notes that the present government has made a concession towards alleviating tensions by forming Suhakam, the human rights commission. "It's a start," she says. "It's a place for people to go to, and it is in the hands of very capable and credible people. The rakyat must give it support so that Suhakam will have moral authority, since it has not been given powers as such."

On a personal note, this lady in a tudung (headscarf) tells AgendaMalaysia that "this whole experience has been a great educational process for my children. I have been able to cope, thanks to the help of my extended family and supporters. I visit my constituency every three weeks. People come to our house every Thursday and Friday night for prayers, and they bring food."

Wan Azizah then gathers her crutches and stands up shakily to wish us goodbye. Declining our assistance to help her, she says, "Thank you, but I have to do this on my own."

As she has been for the last two years, and will likely continue to be for some time to come.