Media Statement (2) by Lim Kit Siang in Petaling Jaya on Friday, 17th October 2008: 

Is appointment of Zaki as Chief Justice the last nail in the coffin of Abdullah’s pledge of judicial reform?

When Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi finally bowed down to irresistible pressures in UMNO to scuttle his mid-2010 power transition plan and announced on October 8 that would not defend the post of Umno President, he said he would complete three reforms, including judicial reform, before he steps down as Prime Minister next March.

Is the appointment of Tan Sri Zaki Azmi as the Chief Justice to take over from Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamed, who retires compulsorily tomorrow, the last nail in the coffin of Abdullah’s pledge of judicial reform?

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who was appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department after the March 8 general election by Abdullah to shepherd the reforms into reality, had implied that the appointment of a new Chief Justice to replace Hamid would be made under the new reform format and regime of a Judicial Appointment Commission.

But this is not to be and Zaid had resigned as the de facto Law Minister last month not only over the undemocratic abuses of power in the arbitrary use of the Internal Security Act to detain a senior woman Parliamentarian Teresa Kok, a senior Sin Chew reporter Tan Hoon Ching and blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin but also at the “resistance” he encountered in Cabinet when trying to translate the promises of judicial reform into legislative reality.

Was Abdullah completely unaware of the Cabinet “resistance” to judicial reforms which dogged Zaid’s efforts, and if not, what did he do to smoothen and facilitate the passage of the necessary legislation for judicial reforms in the six months after the March 8 “political tsunami”?

With Abdullah’s promise that judicial reform would nonetheless be pushed through into fruition as it was his original pledge and not Zaid’s, one would have thought that the appointment of the new Chief Justice would be in the spirit of reformist consultation with the relevant stakeholders under the promised regime of judicial reforms.

This is not only not so, the Prime Minister has shown utter disregard and contempt for the widespread objections of the legal community and civil society to the appointment of the first Umno Chief Justice in the 51-year history of the nation!

In the circumstances, it is most regrettable and deplorable that Abdullah had stuck to his guns that Zaki be appointed the new Chief Justice, despite being forewarned that it would plunge the country into a new judicial crisis of confidence and a new era of judicial darkness.

Is Zaki capable of providing the necessary judicial leadership to ensure that Malaysia can rise above the past two decades of judicial darkness, plunging from one judicial scandal and crisis of confidence to another, and which reduced the Malaysian judiciary from its previous high international standing into a laughing stock for lack of independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary?

Pakatan Rakyat MPs must now decide whether to invoke Article 127 of the Malaysian Constitution which empowers the tabling in Parliament a substantive motion to debate the suitability and the merits/demerits of Zaki as the new Chief Justice provided it has the support of at t least a quarter of the Members of Parliament, i.e. 55 MPs.

If such a substantive motion is presented in Parliament, it would be the first time in Malaysian parliamentary and constitutional history.

* Lim Kit Siang,  DAP Parliamentary leader & MP for Ipoh Timor