After a long standoff, the Agong has finally consented to Tommy Thomas’ appointment as Malaysia’s new Attorney General. Why exactly is there so much buzz surrounding Tommy Thomas? It is because a candidate has finally been picked based on competency and integrity, rather than race or religion. The term “qualified” now holds merit in our Constitution’s Article 145. Not only is Thomas not a Malay-Muslim, he also holds views that some may consider pretty unconventional.
A new day begins.— Fahmi Fadzil (@fahmi_fadzil) June 4, 2018
Congratulations, Mr Tommy Thomas. pic.twitter.com/9z73IZWxIE
Best known as a constitutional law expert and civil litigator, Thomas is among the best public law advocates in Malaysia. He holds an enormous amount of experience, making him a (way) more-than qualified candidate for the job. Since being called to the bar for more than 40 years ago, Thomas has appeared as counsel in many landmark cases in various branches of the law in all the courts of Malaysia, including the Privy Council in London, Malaysia’s highest court until 1985.
In July 2016, he published Abuse of Power and Anything but the Law, collections of essays on a wide range of legal topics. Tommy Thomas is not one afraid of speaking their mind. He straight up refuted the Court of Appeal’s ruling upholding a government ban on the use of the word “Allah” in the Catholic Church’s internal publication Herald in 2013, calling it constitutionally wrong. Charismatic, clever, and confident, Tommy Thomas is a pick that has received wide-spread support from the public.
Although wide-spread, that’s not to say that there hasn't been any resistance from certain groups, especially Muslim ones. Prof. Datuk Mahamad Naser Disa, chief executive officer of the Institute of Islamic Strategic Research Malaysia (IKSIM), has expressed his dissenting view that the AG’s post should only be held by a judge or senior lawyer who has substantial knowledge in Islamic and royal matters. As well as the inability to assist the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in “preserving the sanctity of Islam at all times” (which apparently breaches Article 145(2) of the Federal Constitution), Mahamad Naser also said a conflict of interest would present itself as Thomas is representing Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng in his corruption cases.
However, the Federal Constitution does not explicitly prohibit a non-Malay or a non-Muslim to be appointed to the post. Whether or not you believe Tommy Thomas’ appointment as AG is constitutional or not is a whole other issue that will have to be discussed in an entirely other article.
The majority opinion still holds that important political posts such as the AG should not exclude non-Malays or non-Muslims, but it has become a norm that we Malaysians have seen time and time again. The previous BN-government has perpetuated using race and religion as a key determinant in these appointments. It is hard to imagine Malaysia as a country separate from religion, but Tommy Thomas hopes his views of our country as a secular one will continue to resonate with many.
According to him, Dr. Mahathir’s 2001 declaration that the country is an Islamic state is a “statement consigned to historical oblivion.” It’s strange to think that Dr. Mahathir was once criticized by Thomas, and now the two appear to be allies working together. But this is exactly what meaningful change is, and the fact that Mahathir has set their differences aside embodies what it really means to be 1Malaysia. Reforming a system that has been broken for so long seems impossible, but this is a good first step towards a brighter future for Malaysia.