An unprecedented feud between Malaysia’s nine hereditary rulers and their Chief Justice, Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim, could lead to the sacking of senior judges, including Ahmad Fairuz himself, and force the resignation of prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, according to political analysts.
The rulers have twice refused to accept any of Abdullah’s nominees to fill the post of the Chief Judge of Malaya which has been vacant for seven months since the retirement of Siti Normah Yaakob on January 5. Siti was Malaysia’s first woman judge.
The Chief Justice has since been acting as the Chief Judge of Malaya, which, according to Ambiga Sreenevasan, chairwoman of the Malaysian Bar Council, is a breach of Malaysian laws governing judicial appointments. The Chief Judge of Malaya is third in seniority after the Chief Justice, who heads the Federal Court, and the President of the Court of Appeal.
Analysts say the rulers, who count a former Lord President, Azlan Shah, among them, are unlikely to accept a new nominee of Abdullah as they are unhappy with Ahmad Fairuz who has been accused of promoting lesser and errant judges to important posts in his judiciary. The Chief Justice has denied these allegations and has demanded proof of misdemeanours of his judges.
Under Malaysia’s complex system of appointing judges, the Yang di Pertuan Agong, the Supreme Ruler of Malaysia generally referred to as the King, must issue and sign the appointment letter of a judge after the rulers have accepted the prime minister’s advice. Analysts say this letter is not likely to be forthcoming although Ahmad Fairuz said earlier that the new Chief Judge of Malaya would be appointed by 31 August when the 13-state Southeast Asian federation celebrates its 50th year of independence from Britain. The Chief Justice has since denied ever having set a deadline on the appointment.
Analysts say the impasse can only be broken if Ahmad Fairuz, who was appointed by Abdullah in 2003, resigns from his post. Otherwise, Abdullah may be force to set up a tribunal to impeach him and other judges for misconduct. It would be the second tribunal since the one in 1988 which former premier Mahathir Mohamed used to sack the Lord President Salleh Abas and five of his fellow judges for judicial misconduct. Abdullah, analysts say, would also be under pressure from Malaysians to resign from his office if he fails to appease the rulers in his handling of Ahmad Fairuz and restore public confidence in the judiciary.
Meanwhile, the government-controlled New Straits Times reported today that records of the Court of Appeal showed that a former High Court judge failed to write his judgment in 33 criminal and civil cases.