It was the Agong who moved to sack Salleh Abas, says former A-G

Bede Hong

Former attorney-general Abu Talib Othman says the then Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, the late Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail of Johor, insisted on the sacking of Lord President Salleh Abas. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 4, 2018.

DR Mahathir Mohamad did not initiate the sacking of lord president Salleh Abas in 1988, but was instead following the decree of the King, former attorney-general Abu Talib Othman said today. 

Abu Talib, who served as A-G from 1980 to 1993, was commenting on Dr Mahathir’s statement yesterday that he did not have anything to do with the sacking of Salleh. The former prime minister also said he was willing to swear on the quran over the issue.

Recounting what happened prior to Salleh’s sacking, Abu Talib told reporters today that he told the then prime minister that neither he nor the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong could remove a sitting lord president.

“Well, it was a challenging moment. Can you ignore the command of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (late Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail of Johor)?

“I advised Dr Mahathir and reminded him of the oath of office that as a prime minister, he must protect and defend the constitution. And he told me: ‘You go and tell the Agong that’.

“I went to see him (the King) in Johor. And the King insisted that action be taken accordingly. Again, I reminded him (the King) that neither the prime minister nor the King could remove the sitting lord president,” Abu Talib told reporters in Kuala Lumpur today.

He said he reminded the King of “his oath” to protect and defend the constitution.

Abu Talib had made similar comments in an interview with The Malaysian Insight in August, where he had said the executive was not to be blamed for the judicial crisis of 1988, which he had alleged was instigated by the judges.

The 1988 judicial crisis came to a head when Salleh was removed from office while five other Supreme Court (as the apex court was called at the time) judges were suspended.

Salleh wrote to the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong on behalf of the judiciary, expressing disappointment with the accusations made by Dr Mahathir against the judiciary.

The Bar Council had also questioned the sacking, saying it was unconstitutional.   

‘King displeased with Salleh’

Abu Talib said the Agong was displeased with Salleh’s letter complaining about the criticisms levelled at the judiciary by the executive.

“That is the cream of it,” Abu Talib said. 

“That complaint seemed to have caused the displeasure of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Iskandar.

“He then referred Salleh’s letter to the prime minister, with a command that appropriate action be taken on the basis of the complaint.

“Since both of them agreed that action should be taken, I prepared all the necessary papers for the setting up of the tribunal,” he said, adding that he used Dr Mahathir’s name to set up the tribunal as communication with the palace was handled by the prime minister’s office.

“So it is not true that I used his name to disturb the Agong. The prime minister has to play a role in the setting up of the tribunal.”

The procedure removing the sitting lord president is prescribed in Article 125(3) of the Federal Constitution, which states that a tribunal must be set up to enquire whether there a case of misconduct or inability from infirmity of body or mind or any other cause before carrying out the removal.

It was a six-member tribunal, chaired by Supreme Court judge and former lord president Hamid Omar, that sacked Salleh.

In the same year, the Federal Constitution was amended to remove the term “judicial power” from Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution, which subordinated the judiciary to Parliament.

Abu Talib said although he regarded the matter as history, “it has been politicised and made personal.”

“It is not true that Dr Mahathir moved the removal or wanted Salleh removed, he was only complying with the command of the then Agong. 

“I’m not defending Dr Mahathir but that’s the fact. I’m not playing politics but using facts,” added the former A-G. – January 4, 2018.

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