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Likas: IHT STS Judge Nullifies Election of Ex-Minister In Malaysia
By Thomas Fuller

10/6/2001 10:41 pm Sun

The International Herald Tribune
9th June 2001

Judge Nullifies Election of Ex-Minister In Malaysia

Thomas Fuller International Herald Tribune

KUALA LUMPUR A senior judge on Friday nullified an election victory of a member of Malaysia's governing party and criticized an apparent attempt to influence his decision, calling it an "insult to one's intelligence."

It was the second time in less than two weeks that a judge ruled against the government in a high-profile and politically sensitive case.

In a strongly worded decision, Justice Muhammad Kamil Awang alluded to an attempt to influence his ruling.

"In my view, it is an insult to one's intelligence to be given a directive over the phone that these petitions should be struck off without a hearing," he said.

The judge said he decided "truly to act as a judge and not a 'yes man.'"

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, nullified the 1999 victory of Yong Teck Lee, a former chief minister in the eastern state of Sabah.

The judge said the victory was invalid because the electoral rolls included non-existent voters and non-citizens.

Opposition politicians in Malaysia have long complained of "phantom voters" in the country's electoral system. Soon after the election in 1999, an opposition party complained to police that 30,000 immigrants were issued Malaysian identity cards to allow them to vote in Sabah.

Justice Muhammad Kamil said the case "may well be the tip of the iceberg" and that it could have "inferences for the rest of the state."

"No one, including government departments or institutions, is above the law," he said. Friday's ruling came a week after another judge released two anti-government activists in a landmark case involving the use of the Internal Security Act, which permits detention without trial. The judge in that case, Hishamudin Mohamed Yunus, questioned whether the act was "really relevant to the present-day situation of this nation of ours." Taken together, lawyers say the recent decisions are a whiff of judicial activism in a court system that for years has largely been perceived as pro-government. "It's interesting that he's openly exposed the fact that someone's tried to tell him what to do," said Sivarasa Rasiah, a Malaysian human rights lawyer, referring to Friday's ruling by Justice Muhammad Kamil. "This is unprecedented in recent Malaysian judicial history."

Malaysia's new chief justice, Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah, who was appointed last December, has said on several occasions that it was his mission to change the public's negative perception of the judiciary.

"This negative perception has held up development in the country when multinational corporations and foreign investors are reluctant to invest because they perceive there is no level playing field in the courts," he told his fellow judges in January.

Straits Times of Singapore
9th June 2001


I was subjected to pressure - judge

Rejecting a demand to throw out the case, the judge rules that a government backbencher must vacate his seat in the Sabah assembly

By Wan Hamidi Hamid

A JUDGE in a Sabah High Court dropped a bombshell yesterday when he revealed in his written judgment that he had received a phone call demanding that he strike out election petition cases over which he was presiding.

Justice Datuk Muhammad Kamil Awang ignored the 'directive' and in a landmark decision, ordered government backbencher Yong Teck Lee to vacate his State Assembly seat.

The judge ruled that Mr Yong, a former Sabah Chief Minister, had won the seat in 1999 with the help of 'phantom voters'.

The judgment is expected to pave the way for a by-election in Likas constituency.

A by-election usually takes place within 60 days after the Election Commission (EC) declares a seat vacant.

The law stipulates that no one can contest the ruling.

Datuk Muhammad made the ruling to allow a petition by Dr Chong Eng Leong of the opposition Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) - who lost to the Barisan Nasional (BN) candidate for the constituency - to nullify the election results.

Dr Chong alleged that foreigners had voted in Likas as the EC did not expunge the names of phantom voters despite objections raised before the state election.

Datuk Yong won the seat with a majority of 4,962 votes, defeating Dr Chong and four other candidates.

In his written judgement, Datuk Muhammad made a reference to the phone call.

He said: 'The only guide to a man in his conscience, the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and the sincerity of his action.

'In my view, it is an insult to one's intelligence to be given a directive over the phone that these petitions should be struck off without a hearing and, above all, it is with prescient conscience that I heard these petitions.

'God has given me the strength and fortitude, as a lesser mortal, to act without fear or favour, for fear of a breach of oath of office and sacrifice justice, and, above all, to truly act as a judge and not a 'yes man'.'

Datuk Muhammad, in his judgment read out by Deputy Registrar Ravinthran Paramaguru, said it was common knowledge that an influx of illegal immigrants had plagued Sabah for some years.

Reports about the matter had even appeared in the local dailies.

He said the EC should have been aware of the problem and should have held a public inquiry when the objections were raised.

'The exposure of fraudulent practices such as massive phantom voters is time-consuming, but it has to be done if we wish to defend and preserve the meaningful practice of democracy in Malaysia.

'As custodians of free and fair elections, the EC is duty bound to do it.'

He said it was obvious that the EC's lack of action in holding a public inquiry in the face of the objections was unacceptable and therefore, the December 1998 election results in Likas were not bona fide.

Another candidate, Datuk Harris Salleh, also a former Sabah Chief Minister, had filed a petition alleging Datuk Yong had put up illegal billboards during the campaigning period.

The judge said Datuk Yong committed an offence under the Election Offences Act, which states that names and address of printers or publishers must be printed on election posters, placards or any advertisements.

Dr Chong said the ruling was a victory for the people of Sabah over the issue of phantom voters.

PBS has complained to the EC and the Federal government about phantom voters and even raised the matter during parliamentary sessions for more than a decade.

Datuk Yong has said he will go through the judgement before taking action.