Indian-origin lawyer Tommy Thomas has become the first minority to hold the attorney general’s post in Malaysia in 55 years. Malaysian king Sultan Muhammad V announced Thomas’ appointment to the post on June 4 amid protests from Islamic groups, the Hindustan Times reported.
Sultan Muhammad V approved the termination of current Attorney General Mohamad Apandi Ali’s tenure to have him replaced by Thomas, according to the palace statement.
Ali had cleared former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak of guilt in a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal in 2016 when reports emerged of financial mismanagement at the government-owned company 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The case was reopened after Razak lost elections on May 9, and was subsequently barred from leaving the country. Prosecution for this case will be Thomas’s first task as attorney general.
However, the appointment of Thomas, a 66-year-old ethnic Indian Christian lawyer, was met with protests from groups representing ethnic Malays, that account for two thirds of Malaysia’s 31 million people. They have demanded that the top legal job be given to a Muslim to protect the status of Islam as the country’s official religion, the report added.
The statement released by the palace said that the king finalized Thomas’ name for the post on the advice of new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad and in consultation with the heads of other royal households. Thomas, who has served as a member of the Bar Council twice – between 1984 and 1988, and from 1993 to 2001 — studied at the University of Manchester and the London School of Economics.
“The appointment will preserve the special rights of the Malays and Bumiputera, and the status of Islam as the religion of the federation,” the palace statement read.
The king also urged all Malaysians to make sure that Thomas’ appointment doesn’t “create religious or racial conflict as every Malaysian should be treated fairly regardless of race and religion.”
The Malaysian Bar, a body of lawyers in the country, welcomed Thomas’s appointment, citing his 42-year experience in the legal field, and calling him a perfect fit to be adviser to the government, Malay Mail reported. “Tommy is the first practicing lawyer to be appointed directly from the Malaysian Bar to be the attorney general,” Bar president George Varughese was quoted as saying in the report. “His appointment bodes well for the government’s agenda of holistic institutional reforms.”
The non-Malay-Muslim attorney generals who have served in Malaysia in the past were Thomas Vernor Alexander Brodie (1955-1959), Cecil M. Sheridan (1959-1963) and Athi Nahappan (1970-1974).