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Abdullah must be mindful that a greater constitutional crisis than the one that will erupt with the extension of Ahmad Fairuz’ term as Chief Justice from Nov. 1 will be the appointment of an UMNO Chief Justice, namely Tan Sri Zaki Azmi

Media Statement          
by Lim Kit Siang  

(Parliament, Saturday): There is growing concern that to avoid a grave constitutional crisis that will erupt with the extension of Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim as Chief Justice after Nov. 1, the country may be plunged to another equally grave crisis of confidence in the independence and integrity of the judiciary – the appointment of an UMNO Chief Justice for the first time in the 50-year history of Malaysia, namely Tan Sri Zaki Tun Azmi.

The appointment of Zaki as Federal Court Judge in early September, which involved an unprecedented “triple jump” without first serving as judge of High Court and Court of Appeal, was the first in the nation’s 50-year history, raising the question whether the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was paving the way to appoint Zaki as a future Chief Justice.

Nobody questions the legal qualifications and capabilities of Zaki but there are many legitimate questions as to the suitability of his judicial appointment, in particular as Chief Justice.

Is the country going to start the second half-century of nationhood with an UMNO Chief Justice, when for five decades, there had never been any judge who could be said to be an UMNO judge in terms of his party membership and his long services to UMNO as a political party.

For the past 22 years, Zaki was an active UMNO member and lawyer, representing UMNO in many controversial and even dubious UMNO cases, culminating variously as head of UMNO legal advisor; head of UMNO disciplinary committee panel and in 2001 as Deputy Chairman of UMNO Disciplinary Board of Appeal.

Is Zaki still an UMNO member? If he had resigned from UMNO, when did he resign from UMNO?

Even if Zaki had resigned from UMNO, at a time when the greatest challenge of the judiciary is to restore national and international confidence in the independence and integrity of the judiciary after two decades of erosion and devastation, will Zaki’s further elevation in the judiciary to become the Chief Justice be conducive to such an uphill task which had been the bane of Malaysia’s world standing and international competitiveness?

After his appointment to the Federal Court in early September, Zaki said that he was given less than 24 hours to decide whether he would accept the appointment, and he described it as a “national service”.

What is even more important is whether public perception, both national and international, will regard it more as “UMNO service” rather than “national service”.

In the circumstances, it would be a major faux pas of the Prime Minister to plunge the country from one judicial crisis of confidence to another, re-opening anew the urgency for the establishment of a Judicial Appointments and Promotions Commission to remove extraneous considerations and factors in judicial appointments which could only undermine public confidence in the judiciary.


* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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