Malaysia’s Bersih calls for separation of powers between the attorney general and public prosecutor

With rumours about Malaysia’s 15th General Election heating up, electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 has called on the government to enhance the rule of law by separating the functions of the public prosecutor and attorney general (AG) through an online petition.

In the petition, Bersih highlighted that the appointment of the AG is, in essence, a political one, because it is at the discretion of the Malaysian king on the advice of the prime minister.

Bersih also said the AG acts as the public prosecutor who has the power to “institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence” at his will.

It pointed out that this system might result in a conflict of interest, which could lead to claims of political intervention through selective prosecution and immunity, non-pursuit of current charges, and withdrawal of charges for individuals who support the administration.

Currently, the petition on Change.org has gained more than 700 signatures from the public since it was launched yesterday. Bersih has organised several peaceful demonstrations in the past which helped bring down the Barisan Nasional government during the last general election.

“The public prosecutor’s role must be separate, and must be appointed by the Agong through a transparent process that is independent of the prime minister’s influence,” it said.

On the other hand, Bersih added that the AG can continue to serve as the government’s legal counsel without taking part in the judicial process.

The public would reject political parties that do not protect the rule of law in Malaysia, according to Bersih, who urged Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and all lawmakers to endorse the division of the AG’s duties.

“We do not want ‘double standard justice’ where the rich and powerful can escape justice while the rest of us are expected to be law-abiding citizens or face punishment.

“We urge all Malaysian citizens who cherish the rule of law to sign this petition and after two weeks.

“We will submit it to the prime minister together with our published report Reforming the Office of Attorney-General and The Judicial and Legal Services in Malaysia.”

Bersih initially issued its call on the matter last Saturday, it highlighted the public’s unhappiness over the discharge not amounting to the acquittal of lawmaker Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim on September 23 following a request by the deputy public prosecutor, saying this showed the necessity of having the prosecution office independent of the AG, who is a political appointee.

“On the same day, the acquittal of Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi by the high court of all corruption charges in the foreign visa system case has also put the spotlight on the AG, whether he would appeal the court’s decision,” Bersih noted.

“We should be reminded about the principle that ‘justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done’,” Bersih said.

To illustrate, Malaysia’s former AG, Apandi Ali, was investigated by police in August after a report was lodged against him for allegedly abusing his power as AG by clearing convicted former primer minister Najib Abdul Razak of any wrongdoing in the 1MDB saga.

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