Karpal, Mahathir exchange letters on 1988 judicial crisis


On 27 March 2008, the MP for Bukit Gelugor, Karpal Singh, wrote to former premier Mahathir about the 1988 judicial crisis. “It is not the present Government which should apologise, but you yourself personally,” wrote Karpal. “Your culpability in the events leading to the dismissal of these three judges cannot have any justification in law or otherwise.”

“The necessity for you to apologise cries to high heaven. Your acts caused the judges concerned and their families untold pain and suffering.”

Karpal said he was writing to find out whether Mahathir was prepared to tender an unqualified and unconditional apology to Salleh Abas, George Seah and the family of the late Wan Suleiman Pawanteh, “who was one of the finest judges the judiciary ever had”.

It is imperative that the spirit of Wan Suleiman be appeased, he added. “This is the least you can do in your lifetime to atone for your actions for what transpired twenty years ago.

In an extraordinary letter to Karpal on 3 April 2008, Mahathir responded with guns blazing:

YB Mr Karpal Singh

Member of Parliament, Bukit Gelugor

Yang berhormat

Thank you for your letter.

You and my other detractors will never believe me whatever I may say. You are moved by pure hatred and I cannot respond to people who can never accept reality.

My conscience is clear. I have done what was my duty and I owe nobody any apology. I am sure you will make use of this letter to dirty my name further. That is your right. I think you are the most contemptible of politicians and individuals.

Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad

Karpal responded today in a press statement:

I stand by what I have stated in my letter. I refer, in particular, to the last paragraph of Dr Mahathir’s letter where he calls me “the most contemptible of politicians and individuals.”

As Dr Mahathir is much older to me, I do not propose to hurt his feelings in the vein by which he has described me.

I would advise Dr Mahathir to take my views in his stride. I assure him I don’t hate him.

Karpal Singh

Ordinary Malaysians can gauge for themselves Mahathir’s role in this whole sordid affair.

Why not let Tun Salleh provide an eye-witness account of what transpired. This account is based on his private notes and was reproduced in Aliran Monthly, soon after his dismissal in 1988:

When I arrived at the Prime Minister’s Department I was met by a policeman who took me by lift to a waiting room. After waiting for about two or three minutes, I was shown into the Prime Minister’s Office by an officer, whom I did not recognise. There I found YAB Perdana Menteri (then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad) seated at his table with YAB Encik Ghafar Baba, Timbalan Perdana Menteri (then deputy prime minister) and Tan Sri Sallehuddin Mohamed, Ketua Setiausaha Negara (the then chief secretary to the government) seated at the same table opposite the Prime Minister. When I entered the room I gave the Prime Minister and the others my salam very loudly and he replied my salam. (Peace be on You).

After I had taken my seat, the Prime Minister told me that he had an unpleasant duty to perform and on being asked what it was, he replied that he had been asked by (the then) DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di Pertuan Agong to tell me that I should step down. I then expressed my surprise in an Islamic way saying “Glory to God, who is free from any partnership.” Then I asked him for the reasons and in reply he said that he was not prepared to argue with me, but finally he said the reason was that I had written a letter to DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di Pertuan Agong regarding the state of relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive. I told him that I wrote the letter simply because Judges, at a meeting on 25 March 1988, had informed me that they were very concerned about the present situation and asked to express their views through me. YAB Perdana Menteri then said that I made speeches indicating that I am biased and I am not qualified to sit in UMNO cases. I told him that I said nothing of that and the speeches I had made only dealt with the criticisms levelled at the Judiciary. I am not at all biased or bipartisan in political matters. While all this was going on, YAB Encik Ghafar Baba kept his head down while Tan Sri Sallehuddin was writing in a note book, which he was then holding.

When finally I said I would not resign, he told me that if I stepped down I would be given everything that I was entitled to. I told him that I was entitled to nothing since I was not yet 60. Obviously, he was surprised when told I was not 60 yet. Finally, he said that if I did not step down he would institute a Judicial Tribunal with a view to removing me. I told him I would not resign because if I did, I could not show my face to anyone and I might as well die.

He said that I could see the Agong if I wanted to and he would not stop me from doing so.

I told him that I would not be resigning and he could do what he pleased with me, including going ahead with the Tribunal. As there was nothing else to discuss, I finally said “Datuk, I should not waste anybody’s time”, and I shook his hand, also Encil Ghafar Baba’s and Tan Sri Sallehuddin’s. None of these three looked me right in my face and I could detect Encik Ghafar Baba was strangely silent and Tan Sri Sallehuddin only caught me by the side of his eyes but he too appeared to be subdued.

The Prime Minister himself, from the beginning to the end, did not even look me in the eye. He was looking down at his table all the time.

I left his room and I only saw one policeman outside his room who appeared surprised to see me there. When I went downstairs there was nobody even to see me off and no one called for my driver. I had to go out to look for my driver.

My future is tied up with the fate of this country. I come from an unknown family and I have reached the top of my profession. I have no desire to leave until I have reached the age of 65 like my predecessors, except the Sultan of Perak, who vacated the job because of a call of duty to be the Ruler of Perak. I leave my fate to the judgment of Allah and as it is Friday, I wish to quote the Quran, which says, “No misfortune will fall on us except what has been decreed by Allah. He is our protector and in whom the believers should place their trust.” This passage from the Quran struck my heart as I entered the door of the Prime Minister’s Office and it remained with me during the course of our discussion till the end, and to my exit from his room.

You be the judge!

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of course “Truth shall prevail in due time”..but problem is
people just don’t want toaccept the truth if the truth is not
what they expect to.. especially those Anwar’s … fanatic…


What goes aroung shall come around…….it is how histroy repeats its self.

So the day that adharma ( evil) will be confronted and destroyed by dharma ( good) is very near. Truth shall prevail in due time,and evil will be destroyed. The time is coming soon when we’ll see the force of truth like tsunami washing away evil.



You do not have a conscience so do not say your conscience is clear…


I believe justice will prevail if a person has integrity and done good in his life. Dr M who is always in denial, could continue putting the blame on others for the evil deed he has done during his tenure. Just remember “What goes round comes around”.


I was wondering what was going through Mokthar Abdullah head moment before he died. I was wondering what was going through Megat Junid’s head moment before he died. Malaysians like you and me were raped and robbed off independent judiciary system the day he manipulated the judiciary circles and sacked Tun Salleh. I remember reading George Seah’s article in Bar council website. Rakyat has spoken this time. Mahathir in the midst of trying to protect the old tumor that was ruptured prematurely, willing to throw any contemptible remarks on anyone. Be it Chinese as communist, be it Jew, be it… Read more »


Please jebatmustdie, nobody does anything without Mahathir’s go ahead, even the Agong. He can’t sack, the Chirf Justice, it is not provided for by the law. Only a tribunal could and did you bother to find out who the members of the tribunal were?


Tun Salleh Abbas is saying the truth. It is like seeing his heart rather than the pure lies (of others). Dear Tun Salleh: we apologise to you.

Dr. Thomas Kurian

Who do you believe? It is hard to believe Dr. Mahathir. He says that his conscience is clear. Is it clear or seared so that he cannot feel anything. It is time to review the whole thing. If you you do not deal with the cause the problems will never be solved in the judiciary. While Tun Salleh Abbas is still alive, it must be done.

Dr T

raj raman

well,its might be tough,,maybe we shoukd ask the ex agong whether he gave the instruction to sack the judge throu mahathir

ghenjis khan

Tun Salleh Abas is a man of honour and integrity, I saw him speak in person at Hotel Federal before the Elections.

May Allah protect this Tun Salleh from the evil doings of those men and jinn and may Allah guide this lawyer Karpal Singh for trying very hard to uphold the rule of law.


Mahathir is indeed a recalcitrant. All those in the room, if they are still around in this world, should come out to testify gracefully.


from what i read of his account, TDM was ASKED by the Agong to sack him. TDM was caught between a rock and a hard place. If he is so power hungry, he would just order him to be sacked. instead, he used proper channel and institute a tribunal. he was not in the tribunal himself. the people in the tribunal decided to sack him after months of deliberation. i sense that TDM was godsmacked and felt the weight of the world on his shoulders in order to make that decision. that’s why he didn’t look at TSA directly. I… Read more »


The BN government is increasingly looking like the Titanic. The mud slinging going on between Badawi, Mahathir and Razaleigh is leaving the BN regime in tatters. This is not helped by spineless individuals like Nazri Aziz and Zahid Hamidi who would cheer on anyone who is PM but immediately chastise the individual once he is no longer PM. (Remember, dear Mahathir and Badawi, “Melayu mudah lupa”.) Then, we have the Ong brothers from MCA talking trash while MIC and Gerakan are busy re-inventing themselves in circles. We also hear that document and files have gone missing in states ruled by… Read more »


The basic issue is whether the independence of the judiciary was compromised by TDM. If the reason for removing Tun Salleh was because TDM thinks that Tun Salleh was biased against the Government then it was the wrong reason. In any hearing each party will always think they are right and when judgement is passed against him he will cry foul. The judge must have the independence to decide without fear of losing his job just because he decide against the prevailing powers. So it is clear that there was abuse of power to remove Tun Salleh just because TDM… Read more »


When wrongs have been done In the course of one’s duty A leader or CEO must be willing to be humble It doesn’t mean one will lose dignity It signifies one’s graciousness Every one complaint It is the norm of human society Nobody is perfect in this world Nobody should live and believe it We aren’t perfect no matter how much we tried We should be grateful to live and enjoy our temporary sojourn On the world God creates for us Prime Minister yesterday and today Rulers Emperors and Kings They too make mistakes With power which corrupts on the… Read more »

Get Him

What we hear and see today is M’sia still runs by this … TDM by proxy. Haven’t we have enough of him? Haven’t we “seen through” of him? Do we have to remind him that everything he did by proxy would go back to him even without his finger print on it? My salute to Karpal Singh. I hope many more of such a commited men will raise up and nail this TDM and put him in the proper place in our nation’s history. Truth must be told and our children should learnt the truth not the lies left to… Read more »


Tun Salleh as a Christian i fully support your faith in God Almighty. It is also written in Proverbs “Trust in God with all your Heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways Acknowledge Him, He will make straight your path” In humility and with great honor i address a true gentleman and a great Malaysian TUN. The title bring honor to you, your family, your fellow citizens and your country/ As for TDM, history will remember who you truly are. And just like the honorable Karpal Singh, we do not have u TDM….. just very… Read more »


Mahathir will be nailed one way or another. He will live long to see the sh’t he made oozed out of malaysia. He will not die until he is nailed.


Tun Salleh said, …”but finally he (Mahatir) said the reason was that I had written a letter to DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di Pertuan Agong regarding the state of relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive. I told him that I wrote the letter simply because Judges, at a meeting on 25 March 1988, had informed me that they were very concerned about the present situation and asked to express their views through me.” Someone explain this please; is it really a crime for Tun Salleh to write to the Agong? I’m very sure Tun Salleh would not have… Read more »


Karpal’s response is killing him in its mildness. Sometimes a feather is all that is required.

A true Malaysian

malayamuda, Rakyat never elected Mahathir. Umno did. ‘A Democrat’ commented in Malaysian Sentinel-So What’s Up With Malaysia that:- I hope to see, in time to come, let Rakyat elect Prime Minister and Chief Minister through general elections. Then the elected PM and CM will form their respective cabinet and exco. Currently, PM and CM was nominated by political parties which won the majority seats. There are flaws in the current system as:- a) the one nominated have to be consented by the Yang Dipertuan Agong and respective Sultans. The ones who nominated may not be agreed by YPA and Sultans… Read more »


Mahathir is guilty. Saying sorry to Tun Salleh is not enough. It like Mahathir have ‘raped’ Tun Salleh and sorry cannot bring back his dignity and how about his retirement money?? Mahathir must be charged and punished and his retirement money he’s getting now must be seized because that money comes from Rakyat … and don’t hope your son Mukhriz will be able to become next PM. Your family political career is over…


It’s a normal human reaction for one to deny any wrong-doing. It’s also normal for one to think up excuses to get one exonerated. If, confronted with facts, one should not try to wriggle out of the case, any more, if one is a gentleman!

If, one is given power, position, privileges, status, recognition, the ability to communicate, the persuasive power and a long life, one should be grateful and one has the responsibility to use these gifts for the good of his fellow mankind. One should not misuse any of these gifts, left alone abuse it.

Victor Kumar Sinniah

The Barisan National top leaders should accept full responsibility for their poor performance in the recent general election and resign from government and party positions with immediate effect. This is to fullfill their pledge that they will leave when they are no more wanted by THE PEOPLE. How else you want the people to tell you that you are no more wanted? You are nothing but hypocrates who want to hoodwink the very people who have expressed to you LOUD AND CLEAR that enough is enough. Please realise that you can fool some people for some times but you cannot… Read more »

Mr Smith

This sordid affair is all in print in “May Day for Justice” by K Das and Salleh.
It’s all there for those who want to know the truth.

Mahathir may not admit to any wrongdoings which is “an inborn defense mechanism” among humans, more so among arrogant mortals like Mahathir.
History will convict him.