I didn’t interfere with courts, others did, says Dr M

Dr Mahathir Mohamad has again rejected claims that he had interfered with the country’s judiciary and instead accused those who came after him of tampering with the judicial system.

(FMT) – The allegation of judicial interference has hung over his head since the sacking of the head of the judiciary in 1988.

However, he said the courts had ruled against him in several cases, most notably when Umno – of which he was then president – was declared illegal by the High Court on Feb 4, 1988.

The ruling was the culmination of a suit by 11 Umno members filed in 1987, in which they sought a declaration that the party elections earlier that year were unconstitutional and illegal.

The judge, Justice Harun Hashim, decided that Umno was an illegal party on the basis of what Mahathir claims was “some little wrongdoing in some tiny branches”.

He said that while Harun could have just taken action on those branches, the judge chose instead to condemn the whole party. (In his judgement Harun said he was bound to do so by an amendment to the Societies Act.)

He said the judgement “shows the judiciary was not for me and many of the judgments made during my time were against me”.

Speaking to FMT in an exclusive interview, Mahathir said:

Mahathir Mohamad said others, such as Najib Razak, had “tampered” with the judicial system.

“I did nothing. In fact Harun, after declaring that Umno was illegal, was promoted. So I didn’t interfere with the judiciary.”

Mahathir said accusations of interference arose as a result of the removal of Salleh Abas as Lord President of the Supreme Court in 1988, which subsequently led to the removal of five Supreme Court judges (three were later reinstated).

Stressing he had played no part in that crisis, Mahathir said former attorney-general Abu Talib Othman has already since clarified the matter.

However, Mahathir said, Abu Talib “refused to point out that it was the Yang di-Pertuan Agong who wanted Salleh Abas removed and I was instructed.”

Mahathir said he told the King that to remove Salleh, a tribunal had to be set up, and the King had agreed to it.

“So, it was not initiated by me. I never interfered with the judiciary,” he said, adding that he kept himself away from judges and only spoke to the chief justice when he was the prime minister.

Mahathir added that as prime minister he merely passed to the King the list of names of judges to be promoted or new ones to be appointed and that he never changed “anything or any name” on the list submitted by the chief justice.

However, the judiciary had been “tampered with” by others, Mahathir said, citing a decision by Najib Razak to extend the retirement age of judges beyond 66.

“He retained two of the judges obviously because these people favoured him. As for me, I have always had verdicts go against me.”