December 4, 2008

Tun Salleh Abas talks...

The invitation to the talk

On 3rd December 2008, I was given the chance to hear one person's point of view on the Malaysian judiciary but that one person is at the centre of the storm in the current issue affecting one lawyer fights against the system. That lawyer was just fired from his own party due to 'sleeping with the enemy'. The talk was the 9th Ahmad Ibrahim Memorial Lecture which was held at Crown Princess Hotel (a bad place to have a conference now with no access from Jalan Ampang and the renovation of Yow Chuan Plaza)

It was a very sad affair (to me at least) as one of the controversial figure in the attack on the judiciary in 1988 gave his take on a topic not alien to controversy itself titled "50 years of Constitutional Government in Malaysia" which was much different from the topic presented to us on the Invitation Card which stated that the topic was to be "Mahkamah dan Keadilan / Court and Justice". There were barely people who came to hear his talk, in contrast when I was attending the talk by Tony Blair who was the ex-Prime Minister of United Kingdom and his only experience was practising law in his younger day. Tony Blair was invited by University Malaya and it was in honour of Sultan Azlan Shah of Perak's lecture. The seats were so full in the ballroom of Mandarin Oriental Hotel that they have to bring more seats.

The program on the day of the talk

On that day in Crown Princess, there were so many empty seats and it was mostly full of students and just one judge. Either there was a blanket ban on people attending or there was not many people interested in hearing an old ex-judge, and Chief Justice to boot, say his piece. I attended as I was intrigued by the prospect of him mouthing off...

It was not meant to be, at first. He was so civil that when the hotel staff adjusted the flower, the microphone and the rostrum to accommodate his lack of height, he just kept on reading his text. The text itself was quite a lesson in the history of how Malaysia came to be with the emphasise on the formation of the government of Malaysia and how Malayan Union was opposed up until Singapore got out of the federation.

Then, he started to talk about the monarchy and how they were the backbone of the struggle by the so-called freedom fighters of Malaysia like Tok Janggut et al. Then he said that Malayan Union had created a few political parties including UMNO, MCA, PAS and others. Then he said the magic word : The most trustworthy institution east of India. He was referring to Malaysian judiciary before the judiciary crisis, of course.

Other big words that he used was 'the ouster clause', 'social contract' and a few significant numbers connoting years. 'Ouster clause' is the immunity of authority from being sued if doing something within their power which are apparent in a few Malaysian law. Then when he injected the Articles from the Constitution of Malaysia which showed the protection which was supposed to be received by the monarchy, but was removed in 1993 and then 2001, the crowd went wild (as any sleepy crowd, me included, in a sombre afternoon session of legal talk can). His talk was controversial in the suggestions that he put forth but these suggestions were put in subtlely in between the lines. There was no names, no finger pointings and not even a peek into his thoughts about all the controversies surrounding him.

In parting, he compared Malaysia to Rome (Really!). There was this concept in Rome once when it was thriving and people from all places came to work and live there. The citizens were given special privileges but outsiders were given Rome's version of red identity cards, in which when the Roman have accepted them for who they were, they let them into their fold and accepted them. Then, they were called Palladiums (couldn't clarify the term but found the term Peregrinus) to show that they have been assimilated into the Roman empire.

In short, he said, why couldn't we follow the Roman way. Try to live together and change our law especially the Constitution to reflect the acceptance of the other race, other than the native Malay, which is still debatable whether they are even native or not...

A great afternoon but nonetheless, it was like what Malaysian said "Anjing menyalak bukit / dog barking at the hill".

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