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  • Writer's pictureArjun Gananathan

Thomas' Experience as Attorney General of Malaysia

In May 2018, Malaysia held its 14th General Election. For the first time in the nation’s history, an opposition coalition won power and formed a new government. A groundbreaking and diverse Malaysian Cabinet followed. Among the new appointees was Tommy Thomas, candidate for Attorney General. He would be the first Malaysian of Indian descent and the first non-Muslim Malaysian to hold the position. Politics was not foreign to Thomas, at least scholastically. After passing the Bar at Middle Temple, Thomas decided to pursue a master’s degree in international relations at the London School of Economics and Politics. Moreover, Thomas was known as an ardent political critic; in 2016, he published two books on topics in law, politics, and economics – Abuse of Power and Anything but the Law.

Professionally, however, the role of Attorney General represented a significant departure for Thomas. He had been a practicing lawyer and a member of the Malaysian Bar for 42 years. As a practitioner, Thomas explained, one is entrusted only to litigate and serve as an agent or counselor for the client. All significant decisions are made by the client himself. The Attorney General, on the other hand, is entrusted by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the people, to make serious, consequential decisions. Thomas identified this decision-making element as a component of the job that he enjoyed thoroughly, as a naturally decisive person.

Thomas resigned unexpectedly as Attorney General in February of 2020. While this meant that many of Thomas’ projects were left uncompleted, his accomplishments were plentiful. Thomas was tasked with prosecuting former Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, for charges of criminal breach of trust, abuse of power, and money laundering. Two years after the proceedings began, Najib Tun Razak was found guilty on all charges by the Kuala Lumpur High Court. In addition to re-evaluating and re-negotiating unfavourable contracts executed by the prior administration, Thomas was concerned with legal reform. During his time as Attorney General, Thomas drafted and helped pass a bipartisan constitutional amendment to change the legal voting age in Malaysia from 21 to 18. His chambers had also drafted a parliamentary bill to introduce a two-term limit for Prime Ministers, which was eventually withdrawn following his resignation. Although Thomas has since returned to practice, it is evident that his achievements as Attorney General were crucial to his legacy as an advocate.

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