1988 judicial crisis: Is an apology sufficient?


Former Lord President Salleh Abas has reacted positively to Zaid Ibrahim’s proposal that the government should apologise to him and the other top judges who were victimised and sacked in the 1988 judicial onslaught by the Mahathir administration.

Of course, Karpal Singh has a point that when he says that it is not the present administration who should apologise but Mahathir himself. He said that the two tribunals that were convened in 1988 were initiated by Mahathir.

While it is great that the government may acknowledge the terrible injustice that occurred in 1988, a mere apology without concrete measures won’t suffice. Those involved in the crisis must also be held accountable. I am thinking of the role played by people like Hamid Omar (who took over from Salleh Abas) and Haidar apart from Mahathir himself. Mahathir has a lot to answer for – and this time he should not be allowed to plead memory loss. If he is allowed to get away scot free – without any sign of remorse – what message are we sending to future PM’s who might be tempted to trample on the judiciary and subvert the system of check and balance?

We also need to set up an independent commission to revamp the whole judiciary, remove all those tainted judges and ensure that future judges are selected based on integrity, competence and independence. Of course, they must be committed to upholding basic rights.

Here’s what a friend told me: “I just read NST’s editorial though that argues for only an apology because anything more will amount to a witch hunt. Strange logic. How could it be a witch hunt when the culprits are well known?

“On the other hand, I think Badawi is interested in offering just the apology because it will be symbolically enough to shame Mahathir. Getting the latter to apologise is probably difficult because it will involve at least a hearing and/or review and Badawi may risk public dissatisfaction for going after Mahathir in his old age and with a recent bypass. A mere apology may get Badawi to appear more statesmanlike and project him as interested in cleaning up the judiciary.”

I believe that no attempt at reforming the judiciary can succeed until and unless we probe the events of 1988, cleanse/purge the system, and put in place legal and institutional safeguards to ensure that such a scandal can never be repeated.

What’s your take on this?

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The one that single handed-ly destroyed our judicial independence should be held accountable for his role and abuse of executive power.
Anything short of jail time if convicted is a mockery of Justice. Unfortunately, no criminal indictment has taken place so far.


Mahathir should be charged in court for his role in 1988 judicial crisis.he destroyed the entire judiciary, appointed lameduck LPs and Chief Justices (Hamid Omar, anyone and Tun Dzaiddin you are excluded), corrupted justices… interfered with judgements and, ohh! You get the picture. So what is keeping the authorities from charging him?HMMMMMM

better future

Once and for all call for a RCI and jail all those responsible inculding TDM. Why should he be so arrogant even now.
Put these people in jail so that in future no one will meddle and cause so much injustices to abound.
The land is still red, doubt this Zaid can do much – a BN man – what can u expect, he still answers to the PM and SIL.


An apology is only a start to the healing process. To the former Lord President and those affected in the 1988 judicial scandal, no amount of apologies or compensation can possibly make up for their loss. I cannot agree more with you, however, on your call to probe the events of 1988, to exorcise judicial demons still in existence before any meaningful reforms are implemented. Does the UMNO-BN government possess the courage to do the honorable thing? Can it admit to past mistakes and right a terrible wrong? Past records do not give hope it will be transparent, honest and… Read more »


I am in full agreement that the actual culprit should do the apologising.And not only that!.An independent inquiry should and must be conducted to expose the real situation behind the sackings, proper restitution instituted to those wronged if any, and legal action against those found guilty.Only then can this country and it’s legal institution cleanse itself of its past wrongs, so far as this case is concern. As you have pointed out, the current mess in this country is the handy work of TDM, without doubt.He is responsible for laying the grounds for the endless abuses that has happened. The… Read more »


The rakyat and the government are remorseful and are prepared to make apologies to the wrong justices. This speaks well of us as a nation.

We will leave Mahathir with his own conscience, let it dictates his course of action. Let history judge him !


Yes, the govt must apologise and those sacked be given their pension (back dated to the day they were dismissed)


lest we forget I would take a knife to the wound which my blood flowed red It has been 20 years to the day we lost our “independence”. Most Malaysians now are not familiar with the issues and do not even know what exactly took place. The full story has to be retold. Like in days of old where stories were passed down from father to son thru the generations. Once this is done will the people know what to demand from the Government. The people, not the few of us who remember, not those wronged, every voting aged Malaysian,… Read more »

kevin lee

Hello, Anil … On the above topic, apology is a good first step but certainly not sufficient at all to compensate for the sufferings by Tun SA and many others. It is extremely difficult to go back to 1988 and undo those events up to now but to begin to put into place serious safeguards to the judicial system. By changing the current system as proposed by the new law minister would very much draw “blood” slowly from the medicine man who have done so much damage and also many malaysians who also stood by and did nothing for whatever… Read more »


How can anyone subscribe to a mere apology of this magnitude of injustice. This tantamount to approving a serious crime repeatedly. Can anyone do crime and get way with a pathetic sorry to avoid the gallows? What justice are we referring to? The very Leaders who dictate are not immune and should be prosecuted with the maximum penalty to the level of abuse they have done. If you remember the famous slogan “Leadership by example”…my foot! Then face the music as any peasant would have to abide. I have yet to see a single Minister prosecuted except for those against… Read more »


a “truth and reconciliation” do should be held.

we’ll leave no stone unturned, but it’s not necessary to punish the wrong-doers now. i think the truth uncovered should be enough (humiliation) for the rest of their lives.

what’s paramount is the future of the judiciary.

Y Leong

An apology from the present BN government is just the start of clearing the mess created by TDM. This must be followed by bringing the culprits forward – firstly to apologise to the victims for the injustice done, secondly action must be taken through legal process to punish the perpetrators and finally to pass the same sentence that the victims have been made to suffer from – loss of pensions for those who have (as they have probably thought)retired, and for those still holding positions in the judiciary – immediate dismissal. Basically what was good for the poor geese should… Read more »


Anil is right that any reform will not be considered successful until past infringements have been cleared, those who perpetrate them have been brought to justice and those who have been wronged apologised to. This is a small gesture compared to the humiliation they have sufered. Not only the judges but Annur and some of his friends had also been unjustly locked up. Mahathir should face justice. The reason God let him live this long is for him to see how much damage he’s done to the country and to innocent people.


Yep, it is tit for tat..LOL! Vise versa Badawi is making a mockery of Mahathir. Hopefully to silent him from making further negative comments and to force him out of office. Anyways, since finally this issue has been raised whether for propaganda or slander. It would be appropriate that not only apology should be made by the culprits. To meddle with court issues should be considered an act of contempt and the guilty parties involved should be charged in court. Until someone within the Ministry is held accountable and prosecuted, only then would the people have the confidence of the… Read more »

eric chin

I remember when Tun M had to face the ‘Lingam Tape’ Royal Commission. The NST had a columnist writing about how elderly retired politicians should not have to undergo the ‘indignity’ of having to explain their deeds while in office. I was shocked by the illogicality of that assumption. If we agree (with that kind of logic), then people like Hitler and Idi Amin (Uganda) should have been allowed to retire in peace and enjoy their pensions after literally killing millions. I was a great admirer of Tun M. I am the personificaton of an ignoramus who was duped by… Read more »


Abdullah’s apology must be restricted to his manipulations and the various tempering of the Judiciary since he took over from Mahathir and also for not walking the talk regards the promises he made at the previous GE in 2004, to reinstate the independance of the Judiciary. However such an apology may not be necessary anymore. Further to this, with regards Mahathir, the current PM is not going to lift a finger to reinvestigate Mahathir’s Juducial wrong doings and to clear Abbas Salleh and also all the other Judges. Therefore, we the Public must directly request HRH DYMM SPB YDP Agong… Read more »


Now everyone is bickering. They are arguing like children. When will they grow. While they are bickering, the rakyat is suffering.

It it time they stop, repent and remember the kingdom of god is near. The Ides of March passed by without burning their hides.


Dear Anil

I mentioned this comment in Malaysia Today, and I feel this is relevant now that the Cabinet has shot down this proposal by Zaid Ibrahim, and that is this: if a thief robs a person’s house, and in the process, injures or murders the victims, his father may apologise for his crimes. But the thief must nevertheless, be held ACCOUNTABLE.

At the rate it’s goin now, I am very much tempted to think that this is another PR exercise along the lines of the IPCMC.


The damage had taken place. The great thing here is that despite the pain and embarrassment that he went through for years, Former Lord President Salleh Abbas, has shown his magnanimous evolution as a true man by accepting the apology, though through another channel. It shows the integrity and the degree of spirituality that he possesses.


even a chicken thief is punished. what more about those so called leaders who did such a tremendous injustice to the judiciary? the problem is no one will have the moral courage to bring to book those responsible-the racial card will be played once again as always have been.. its that simple.


Abdullah hadhari must propose in Parliament to pay Abbas Salleh a lumpsum gratuity from the date he was sacked up to his actual retirement age at the rate of the last drawn salary per month (X) the number of months. From that date to today at half that of his last drawn salary. This will be our gift to a Great Legend who was abused by TDM, yet we Malaysians voted BN. This should be done immediately with an award of the “TUN” title.


What conscience or history are we going to follow? The only thing I would suggest would be a rewritten fiction cartoon character to portray a SuperMahathir or Hang Mahathir heroic figure. If National Geographic were invited to reveal the “good” deeds of TDM, Malaysians would really be impressed! However, more appropriate is to invite Steven Spielberg to produce a Malaysian version of Dr Jekyll & Hyde movie! TDM, the longest serving Dictator of Malaysia doesn’t even have the courage nor the decency to voluntary apologize is really a crying shame. He was fortunate to ride the tide when the region… Read more »


Like many Malaysians, I too witnessed the events that unfolded during the dark days in Malaysia. The moment that made Malaysia look like pariah in the eyes of the world was the 1988 Judicial Crisis. It is not easy for us to rewind or undo those events. It takes courage, strength and decency to talk about apology. Zaid Ibrahim has shown that he is willing to take the rocky path to clean up the judiciary. I am sure his colleagues in the cabinet will not support him. Tun Salleh Abbas is gentleman enough to accept the apology. He surely knows… Read more »