Malaysia’s king has consented to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s choice for attorney general, a palace statement said early Tuesday (local time), assuring Malaysians that the appointment of an ethnic Indian Christian did not threaten Islam or herald the end of special protections for Malays and indigenous people.
The palace issued the statement after Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition that took the reins of government last month, had an audience with Sultan Muhammad V on Monday night amid media reports that the ruler who confirms all government nominations was unhappy with the government’s choice of a non-Malay for attorney general.
“The King under Section 154 of the Constitution and on advice from the prime minister has agreed to appoint Tommy Thomas as Malaysia’s attorney general,” the statement said.
It also said the king consented to terminate Apandi Ali as attorney general, following a recent decision by the new government to place him on leave.
“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong also called on all Malaysians to accept that the appointment of the Attorney-General should not create religious or racial conflict as every Malaysian should be fairly treated regardless of race and religion,” said the statement, which was attributed to Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz, comptroller of the Royal Household.
The king was concerned over “inaccurate and negative media reports” that could threaten peace and harmony in the Malay Muslim majority country and he had an obligation “to uphold the Federal Constitution and preserve the special rights of the Malays and Bumiputeras, as well as to protect Islam,” the statement said, using a term that refers to indigenous people.
But after considering the views of his fellow sultans of Malaysia, the king consented to terminate Apandi and appoint Thomas as the government’s new top lawyer, the palace said.
The announcement came amid reports that Malaysia’s royal council was scheduled to meet on Tuesday to resolve the issue of the new government’s pick for attorney general. It was not immediately clear whether the Council of Rulers, a body of sultans and governors who represent Malaysia’s 13 states and which selects the king on a five-year, rotating basis, was going ahead with the meeting following the palace’s late-night announcement.
Local news reported Anwar had sought to meet with the king Monday night after meeting with seven rulers, including the Sultan of Johor, to discuss the matter of the attorney general’s appointment.
Following the election, the king granted a full royal pardon to Anwar, who had been imprisoned on a sodomy conviction and is expected to succeed Mahathir as prime minister in a year or two.
Apandi: AG who cleared Najib
Attorney General Apandi Ali was placed on leave after the Pakatan alliance defeated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in the May 9 general election by running on a platform to clean up government.
Apandi is noted for issuing a report in January 2016 that cleared former Prime Minister Najib Razak of alleged corruption in the 1MDB financial scandal, in which billions of dollars were allegedly syphoned from the state investment fund started by Najib in 2009, according to court documents filed by the U.S. Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, is to be questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over its investigation into the transfer of funds from 1MDB, otherwise known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
She is expected to be asked about how about 42 million ringgit (more than U.S. $10 million) from SRC International, a former 1MDB subsidiary, ended up in her husband’s private bank accounts. Najib has denied that he committed any wrongdoing in connection with 1MDB, claiming the deposits were a donation from a Saudi royal.
The MACC questioned the ex-PM two weeks ago after government officers searched Najib’s home, his office and several residences linked to him, confiscating hundreds of boxes of designer handbags and 72 suitcases containing cash, jewelry and luxury items. Later, Malaysian police said the suitcases were packed with nearly $29 million (115 million ringgit) in cash divided into various currencies.
Bar Association support
The Malaysian Bar Association, meanwhile, had issued a statement supporting Mahathir’s right to appoint an attorney general. In a news release, association President George Varughese pointed out that the solicitor general had been serving in the role temporarily.
“The attorney general has a vital role to play as the principal legal adviser to the government and the public prosecutor, and it is therefore imperative that a new attorney general be appointed without further delay,” Varughese said.
The association said the constitution “clearly stipulates that His Majesty must act on the advice of the prime minister.”
The association said the next attorney general should be an experienced career lawyer with all-around legal skills and expertise in public law, possess an impeachable reputation, integrity and honesty.
“Such an appointment would augur well for the many institutional reforms that the government is introducing to birth a new beginning for our nation.”