First, within the judiciary, the JAC can be further empowered by making its decisions binding, rather than the current advisory role that still leaves room for the prime minister’s discretion. The onus should be on the prime minister to accept the JAC’s recommendation – or to provide grounds otherwise.
Broader representation in the JAC, currently dominated by senior judiciary figures, would also allow for scholarly perspectives to weigh in and avoid biases of peer evaluation. Past proposals to raise Federal Justices’ retirement age, to 70 or even higher, should be revisited to allow for longer tenure. For a profession that demands experience and seniority, it is decidedly premature to exit at 66.5.
Second, many other institutions should take the cue from the judiciary in performing their public duty. The Attorney-General’s Chambers’ prosecution of corruption must forge on, especially involving high-profile personalities, unwaveringly pursuing justice while allaying fears that such cases may be dropped before judicial verdicts.
In the prison system, Najib should be granted protection, not privilege. The Pardons Board will also have to weigh petitions with abundant wisdom and rectitude.
Third, parliament needs to show maturity and resist efforts to force its dissolution and trigger an untimely general election, while faithfully checking the executive, particularly with regard to the ongoing littoral combat ship procurement scandal. For all the strife and expediency that has sullied parliament, the Dewan Rakyat has also shown glimmers of constructive bipartisanship.
Will the judiciary’s stand have lasting impact? Unlike the Najib verdict, what happens next is anything but simple and straightforward. The question is whether Malaysia pivots for good.
Lee Hwok-Aun is Senior Fellow of the Regional Economic Studies Programme and Co-coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. This commentary first appeared on the Institute’s blog, Fulcrum.