KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — Tun Salleh Abas was sacked as chief judge in 1988 for complaining to other Rulers about noisy repairs at the King’s private house, according to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The ex-PM revealed it in a tell-all memoir out today.
In his first autobiography, the 84-year-old denied removing Salleh out of revenge when the court declared Umno illegal following the bruising Umno elections of 1987 when Dr Mahathir narrowly beat Kelantan prince, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Dr Mahathir was prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and has long been blamed for clipping the judiciary’s independence.
His successor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, all but apologised for the ruling Barisan Nasional government’s part in the event, dubbed the “judiciary’s darkest hour”.
Shortly after the 2008 general elections, the Abdullah administration agreed to pay cash compensation to Salleh and five Supreme Court judges who were also fired for defending their boss.
In “A Doctor In The House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad”, he attributed it to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong’s unhappiness with Salleh after the latter wrote a letter of complaint to the King, which was also sent to the other Malay Rulers.
Dr Mahathir said the Agong had showed him Salleh’s letter “complaining about the noise that was being made in the course of repairing the Agong’s private residence near Tun Salleh’s own home” during an official meeting in early 1988.
Malaysia’s King at that time was Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Al-Haj ibni Ismail Al-Khalidi of Johor who ruled from 1984 to 1989.
“The Agong felt insulted — it was not in keeping with Malay custom to write a letter of complaint to a Ruler, much less the King,” Dr Mahathir said in the chapter “The Judiciary”.
The King’s displeasure grew after learning copies of the letter was sent to the other Malay Rulers, in what the monarch saw as a move to “pressure and embarrass him”, the fourth prime minister noted.
“He then insisted that I remove Tun Salleh as Lord President, a decision he noted in the margin of Tun Salleh’s letter,” he said.
However, he did not furnish any proof in his autobiography to back what he wrote.
Dr Mahathir insisted there was no link between the Umno elections and Salleh’s shocking sacking as Lord President.
“It was also significant that it was not Tun Salleh but Tan Sri Harun who delivered the remarkable judgment that the entire Umno party was an illegal organisation,” he said.
He noted that in most cases where the federal government was suing or being sued, Salleh had generally ruled in favour of the government.
But Dr Mahathir said the King’s “annoyance only increased when Tun Salleh wrote a second letter, this time complaining about government interference with the Judiciary. Again, he sent copies to the other Rulers”.
Dr Mahathir also said he had tried to offer Salleh a way out that would allow him save face.
“On 27 May 1988 at a meeting in my office, I asked Tun Salleh to consider resigning instead of being removed from his position... Tun Salleh agreed and offered his resignation in a letter dated the following day,” he said in the book.
But, Salleh changed his mind about resigning and withdrew the letter the same day.
Salleh was suspended from his post two months later and then High Court of Malaya Chief Justice, Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Omar, was appointed his stand-in.
Salleh was taken before a tribunal and found guilty of misconduct.