It will never work, say analysts, lawyer on Tajuddin’s threat to sue over damaged reputation following LRT crash

·6-min read
Former Prasarana chairman Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman drew flak for his handling of the collision between two LRT trains near the KLCC station in Kuala Lumpur recently. ― Bernama pic
Former Prasarana chairman Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman drew flak for his handling of the collision between two LRT trains near the KLCC station in Kuala Lumpur recently. ― Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The recent statement by Prasarana Malaysia Berhad’s former non-executive chairman Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman that he was considering legal action against critics for tarnishing his reputation has raised eyebrows among analysts and lawyers.

A public campaign calling for his sacking from the government-linked company (GLC) was launched, after his disastrous handling of a press conference on May 27 to address the collision on the LRT Kelana Jaya line at KLCC that injured over 200 passengers, including six in critical condition.

The analysts and lawyers considered such a move to be far-fetched with a very remote chance of success should the Pasir Salak MP choose to do so.

Advance Tertiary College senior law lecturer and academic director Daniel Abishegam said at the very most, Tajuddin can take legal action against his critics for defamation.

“However he will have to identify a particular person who said something that affected his reputation in the eyes of the public. Given that the criticism of him was generally born out of the anger of the masses, this might be difficult,” he told Malay Mail.

In the event Tajuddin manages to find a person who said or printed words to that effect about him, Abishegam said there are numerous defences that will be applicable in this instance.

“Firstly the defence of justification which is to say that the words were true. I think everything that was said about him was in fact true.

“Secondly, there is what is known as Reynolds privilege where the statement was about a matter of public interest and the person publishing the defamatory words acted reasonably in doing so,” he said.

Abishegam added that this may also apply, given the public nature of the incident and the fact that Tajuddin is a public figure.

“Lastly, there is the defence of fair comment, and if the statement was a comment on his actions based on facts and were fair, then this may be applicable as well.

“So it is my opinion that this is merely just posturing for his supporters and that it is unlikely that any action will be brought, but even if it was brought I believe that there are numerous applicable defences against his legal action,” he said.

Abishegam said that if Tajuddin seeks to pursue legal action at this juncture, it will be to his detriment.

“The story has died down and he is not going to regain his position anyway. He has obviously lost the support of the current administration.

“So any action will only serve to drag up the entire incident and have it play out in the press all over again. It is just not a smart thing to do,” he said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Associate Prof Kartini Aboo Talib Khalid said Tajuddin is free to seek legal action if he deems that his previous remarks during the LRT crash last month were meant as a jovial statement improperly uttered at the wrong place and time, rather than a serious action.

“He has all the money to hire a lawyer and reconstruct his standing. The justifiable ground can be made possible if he deemed that he was fired for non-compliance to his contract, this could be the possibility.

“But in my personal opinion, he has to act responsibly for his improper statement to the public regarding the LRT crash. Where is his empathy and professionalism?” she said.

Kartini said she believes Tajuddin’s bid to seek legal action, should he choose to do so, is merely a form of self-consolation for his own misbehavior.

“In a political sense, he is no longer viewed as a prominent figure for a leader. The public will remember his ridiculous statement and may not vote for such a leader to lead society.

“Even if he wins any legal suit against his supposed critics, it may not reflect well on him. He may win on the ground of his terms of reference and contract, but not to the public image. What he uttered about the crash was absurd and intolerable,” she said.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun described Tajuddin mulling legal action as trying to rehabilitate his political image.

“He has long been a grassroots leader, and at one point agriculture and agro-based industry deputy minister (from 2013 to 2018) but it is his grassroots position that he is mainly known for.

“For the longest period of time, he has been quite abrasive in his comments, both inside and outside of Parliament. So those who sometimes listen to what he has said over the years have become accustomed to his utterances.

“I think it is safe to say that many did not quite have a good impression of how he carried himself during that press conference. Not the least being his nominal superior the Finance Minister, since the Minister of Finance (Incorporated) owns Prasarana, and who promptly fired him the very next day.

“So this sort of negative perception of him is not limited to just among the people, but also among his fellow politicians in the same coalition,” he said.

Oh added that in addition to the very slim chance of winning such legal actions, Tajuddin should expect any legal action he takes to not even reach the trial stage, as it will most likely be dismissed by the judge, even at the pre-trial level.

On June 13, Sinar Harian reported Tajuddin as saying that reports about the press conference after the LRT crash in news portals had tarnished his image, painting him as a leader who was insensitive towards the plight of the victims of the accident.

He claimed that the reports purportedly did not take into account the entire situation and was more controversial in nature as if with a concerted agenda to sully his image as a leader.

He said he was humiliated all over Malaysia as an unqualified, insensitive, racist figure, who does not follow standard operating procedures.

The LRT crash occurred on May 24, along the LRT Kelana Jaya line at KLCC that injured over 200 passengers, including six in critical condition.

Two LRT trains, one manned, the other autonomous, collided at about 8.45pm in a tunnel between the KLCC and Kampung Baru LRT stations. The impact jolted 213 passengers in the autonomous train out of their seats, crashing into each other before falling.

The press conference that took place on May 27 saw Tajuddin condemned for his off-kilter comments, which were deemed insensitive to the victims and insufficiently solemn over a serious incident.

An online petition calling for his sacking at that time garnered over 100,000 signatures and was declared victorious after he was subsequently sacked from the company by Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz.

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