Najib laughs off Dr M’s claim he had not interfered in the courts

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Former prime minister Najib Razak has laughed off Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s claim that the latter had not interfered in the country’s judiciary and given his own version of what had happened when Umno was deregistered in 1988.

“Ha..ha..ha! For Mahathir to say Umno’s deregistration was proof that he never interfered in the judiciary has to be the biggest lie in the Malaysian judiciary’s history,” Najib told FMT.

In an exclusive interview with FMT, Mahathir, responding to claims of interference in the judiciary, said the courts had ruled against him in several cases, most notably when Umno – which he led at the time – was declared illegal by the High Court on Feb 4, 1988.

The ruling came after 11 Umno members sued the party in 1987, seeking a declaration that the party elections earlier that year was unconstitutional and illegal.

The judge, Harun Hashim, declared Umno an illegal party on the basis of what Mahathir claimed 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 and that the judgment “shows the judiciary was not for me and many of the judgments made during my time were against me”.

In an immediate response, Najib rubbished Mahathir’s remarks.

He said the events leading up to the judicial crisis were well-documented and that even Mahathir could not deny this.

Recounting what happened, Najib said in April 1987, Umno held its party election where Mahathir’s “Team A” was challenged by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s “Team B”.

“A total of 1,500 delegates voted, and Ku Li (Tengku Razaleigh) was expected to win after the recession of 1985 but after a blackout in the vote-counting room, it was Mahathir who won with 761 votes to Ku Li’s 718. A margin of 43 votes.”

According to Najib, Tengku Razaleigh’s team then alleged that 78 delegates who voted were from 30 branches that were not registered with the Registrar of Societies and therefore, were not eligible to vote.

He said, the losing side then decided to challenge the result of the Umno election in court.

“The court ordered an out-of-court settlement. However, Tengku Razaleigh’s faction refused to settle for anything less than fresh party elections.

“Mahathir refused to hold fresh elections and the High Court declared Umno an unlawful party, meaning the 1987 elections were made null and void.”

Najib said that before Tengku Razaleigh’s team’s appeal could even be heard, Salleh, the then Lord President and all the Supreme Court judges were controversially suspended. Salleh was later sacked.

“This was the start of the destruction of the judicial system.

“Mahathir then formed Umno Baru and transferred all the now unlawful party’s assets and the members friendly to him to Umno Baru leaving Ku Li and his team out.

“If this interference had not happened then and Salleh was not removed, it was very likely that Mahathir would never have survived as PM for 22 years.”

Najib said that if Mahathir’s claim of non-interference was true, then it also raises questions as to whether former attorney-general Tommy Thomas was being truthful in saying he and Mahathir had a hand in the appointment of judges and had ignored the role of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

“Does that also mean the RCI (Royal Commission of Inquiry) on VK Lingam where he stated ‘correct correct correct’ and claimed that judicial appointments can be settled with Mahathir is wrong?”

Najib was referring to the case involving former lawyer Lingam who was implicated in a judicial fixing scandal by a 2007 RCI, following the release of a viral video clip featuring him purportedly discussing promotions and factionalism among senior judges with then chief justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim.

The RCI panel had recommended that action for misconduct be taken against Lingam, Fairuz, former chief justice Eusoff Chin, tycoon Vincent Tan, Mahathir and former minister Tengku Adnan Mansor. – FMT