Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the man accused of taking away the power of the courts when he was prime minister, has now promised to re-establish “the rule of law” should Pakatan Harapan win GE14.
This will include restoring the independence of the judiciary and instituting system reforms to provide more check and balance on the three branches of government.
“Yes, we have ideas on how to improve the check and balance, for example, the separation of powers between the legislative and the executive, the legislative and the judiciary,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
Dr Mahathir described the country as being in a state of lawlessness, made apparent by the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal and Prime Minister Najib Razak’s sacking of the attorney-general and blocking of investigations into the state investor.
“Today there is no (separation of powers). In fact judges, who cannot be appointed are appointed by Najib, contravening the constitution. I never did this,” Dr Mahathir said, referring to the term extensions of Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin.
Hours after the interview on Wednesday, Dr Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan leaders presented a petition to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to overturn the term extensions put forward by Najib.
Dr Mahathir’s comments now are bound to raise eyebrows, considering that many believe he had curtailed the power of the judiciary.
In 1988, the then Lord President of the Supreme Court Salleh Abbas was removed from office and five Supreme Court judges were suspended.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong had ordered the suspensions upon Dr Mahathir’s advice, sparking a judiciary crisis.
In the same year, the Federal Constitution was amended to remove the term “judicial power” from Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution, weakening the courts.
The Bar Council had condemned the sackings then. It later called for a review of the 1988 judicial crisis after Dr Mahathir admitted in 2006 he had told Salleh to resign or be dismissed.
While accusing Najib of power abuse, Dr Mahathir also denied he was responsible for empowering the Prime Minister’s Department during his tenure.
“The rule of law means that we do not abuse the law or we ignore them. Or take advantage of (legal) loopholes. If we did that, the country would de-stabilise, as has happened under Najib. Najib clearly showed that anyone who opposes him would be arrested or oppressed.
“Jail. Detention. Prosecuted in court for allegedly contravening Sosma (Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012). What is done goes against the spirit of the law until even the courts cannot determine if any actual wrong has been done,” he said.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: You have been prime minister for 22 years and a leader of Umno. Now you are chairman of the opposition coalition. Isn’t that curious?
Dr Mahathir: For me, my struggle is for my country. So, when Umno no longer fights for the country, I choose to be with the opposition because it is now clear that the opposition fights for the country, and not just for themselves.
Q: How does it feel to be working with the opposition?
Dr Mahathir: When I was in government, I condemned them, because I wanted to win the elections. However, they are not as bad as how I thought they would be. Now I am with them. I come with them. Firstly because of the People’s Declaration (Deklarasi Rakyat). At that time they supported (the declaration). It was my initiative, I had full support from non-governmental organisations and the opposition. That was why I became close to them. After the failure of People’s Declaration, we discussed ways to bring Najib down. They agreed with me that Najib should be overthrown. It became a bigger issue than our arguments in the past. We did not speak of the past. We did argue with one another back then. It is not uncommon for someone to shift from one party to another. In my case, I just could not stand Najib anymore. Because he has a record of using money to gain support. That is what I disagree with. During my time, I never gave money to anyone. Therefore these people (the opposition leaders) are against Najib, I am against Najib. Hence, we work together.
Q: Which is harder to run, Pakatan or BN?
Dr Mahathir: Yes, in BN it was easier because we had the power. It is easy to find support and so on. But with Pakatan Harapan, we don’t have any power. And all four component parties are almost equal. Whereas in BN, Umno is the dominant party. Here, there are no dominant parties. We are more or less the same. So we need to have mutual agreement among the four parties when it comes to a big issue.
Q: After you joined Bersatu and Pakatan, you were asked whether you regretted your former treatment of the opposition, who are now your colleagues. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr Mahathir: It’s not a question of forgiveness. What is past is past. If we keep bringing up the past, we will not be able to work together. What we are focusing on now is to remove Najib. On that we can agree.
Q: If Pakatan wins the 14th General Election, and you become the seventh prime minister, what would you do?
Dr Mahathir: I would not be prime minister. (laughs). I think…
Q: Are you contesting?
Dr Mahathir: I am not contesting.
Q: Word is that you will contest in Langkawi.
Dr Mahathir: Many people have said, Najib keeps going to Langkawi because he’s afraid I will win.
Q: There have been calls for you to contest and become the prime minister.
Dr Mahathir: Many people were born and grew up during my time as prime minister. They know the before and after. So they appeciate things more. The ones who never had scholarships, got scholarships. The ones who did not get to become doctors, have become doctors. We helped many people. Business people also. People remember that. That’s why they’re making the comparisons now.
If a businessman does not support Najib, he does not get money from the bank. Many contracts are not given out. Last time, even PAS members could get contracts, during my time. I did not differentiate between parties. If he has the ability, he would get the contract. So people are making comparisons. If they make comparisons, I don’t think they would think Najib’s administration is number one. The whole world knows we are a nation of corrupted leaders. The largest kleptocracy in the world. They never said that of us before.
Q: Would you like to have another go at the prime minister’s office?
Dr Mahathir: I have many ideas. When I was prime minister, I had many ideas. I still have ideas on now to solve the financial issues, administrative problems, democratic problems. Many things would have come about if I was given a chance during Pak Lah’s time (former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s administration), if he asked for my opinions, I would have given him. But he rejected them. Najib rejected them more so. But in the coming government, the PH government, we are in it together. At least I can give my thoughts, and help. I have many ideas. If you don’t have ideas, you cannot rule the country.
– THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT