After a near deadlock, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Muhammad V, finally consented to the appointment of Tommy Thomas as the new Attorney-General (AG) of Malaysia. A statement released by Istana Negara on Tuesday, June 4 stated, “Referring to Article 145 (1) of the Federal Constitution, his Majesty has granted the appointment of Mr Tommy Thomas as the Attorney-General of the country, on the advice of the Prime Minister.”
Prior to his appointment, many had voiced their dissatisfaction with the nomination of a non-Malay as AG. Nasrudin Hassan from PAS said that the sensitivity of Muslims must be respected. Was Prime Minister Tun Mahathir right in appointing Tommy Thomas as the AG to replace Mohamed Apandi Ali? In order to get expert opinions on the matter, Ipoh Echo spoke to those in the know.
Ipoh-based lawyer, Yee Seu Kai, 55, who has been practising law for over two decades, said that the Federal Government had made the right decision in implementing institutional changes based on merits and not race or religion.
“Tommy Thomas is the right person for the job. He has practised law with much honesty and integrity for years and has vast litigation experience,” said Yee. He was amused by claims that the AG must be a Muslim. “Article 145 (3) of the Federal Constitution doesn’t bar a non-Muslim from holding the position of AG. It also provides that the AG’s power excludes Shariah Law. There ought to be different voices in a democratic country. Be that as it may, what’s important is that our government implements institutional changes for the good of Malaysia; and all appointments be based on meritocracy in our beloved multiracial country,” he added.
Retired teacher and social activist S. Sundralingam expressed his delight with the appointment of the new AG. “Tommy Thomas is a very versatile lawyer. I don’t think anyone can question his credentials. He’s been very consistent in his practice of law and is a very skillful lawyer. What makes me feel he’s the perfect person for the position is that he is a man of integrity. Malaysia needs an AG who is honest when carrying out his duties,” he stressed.
The 61-year-old retiree said that Malaysians must understand that the country has had non-Muslim AGs before. Thomas will be the country’s third non-Muslim AG, following his predecessors, Thomas Vernor Alexander Brodie and Cecil M. Sheridan. He will, however, be the first non-Muslim AG since 1963. “The people of Malaysia should not feel threatened. Under the Constitution, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong can relieve the AG of his position if he finds that the AG is infringing the rights of the rakyat, including the rights of the Muslim citizens” he enjoined.
Muhammad Hasanuddin Mohd Yusoff, 29, a practising lawyer for five years, believes that the Federal Government appointed the right person for the position. “I’ve friends who have done their internship with Tommy. I heard nothing but positive remarks about him. He’s a renowned lawyer in the country. I don’t think anyone would want to face him in court. He’s extremely knowledgeable. You’d struggle to find someone more qualified to be the country’s AG. Hasanuddin maintained that there are no requirements for the AG to be a Muslim. “Shariah law has its own jurisdiction. The Muslim community need not worry, as the AG has no control over it,” he insisted.
The people of Malaysia harbour hopes that the new AG will carry out his duty with dignity, integrity and responsibility. All said and done, the appointment of Tommy Thomas augurs well for the integrity of the country’s Judiciary.