I think Tommy Thomas would make an excellent attorney general for the following reasons:
- He is an eminently capable civil and constitutional lawyer. While it would also be good to have a criminal law background, it is still possible for someone like Tommy to take on the role of attorney general.
- From what I have read, it would just be a two-year contract, but it would show the world that Malaysia is serious about legal reforms. Tommy has a strong understanding of human rights and constitutional norms that will help Malaysia to reinforce its democratic credentials so that it can take pride of place in the international community of nations. (Incidentally, Tommy represented the Penang government in its case to reinstate local council elections.)
- Tommy has the expertise to help the government review high-profile corporate contracts involving the government. This is crucial at this time, given that the government may have entered into lop-sided deals that may not favour the public. Tommy will be able to advise the government on the legal options it may have.
That said, I am surprised, if the reports are accurate, that Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with the backing of the PH component parties, has made such a bold choice, despite some possible resistance. Muslim representatives from Parti Amanah Negare have already come out to say that appointing Tommy as attorney general would not affect the position of the Malays and Islam.
Mahathir looks as if he is going for broke on this issue, looking beyond ethnic and religious considerations. He knows he can use Tommy’s expertise.
The prime minister is also aware he has considerable public support behind him – as was evident in his recent stand-offs with the establishment, particularly on election night – to push ahead with reforms.
I suspect Mahathir has learned from his past mistakes and is rather relishing his reinvention as a democrat of sorts this time around. He also seems to be enjoying the considerable public affection, even adulation, he has received over the last couple of years for doing the right thing.
Could it be that this time around, Mahathir is determined to undo the damage he set in motion (remember the 1988 judicial crisis?) and leave behind a lasting legacy he – and all of us – can be proud of? What better way than to appoint a sharp legal critic of his previous administration as the government’s top legal adviser.