In this second and final part of the story behind the writing of 'May Day for Justice', our writer recalls author K Das’s remarks about the blunders he found in the report of the tribunal that confirmed the sacking of former chief justice Salleh Abas.
The late K Das said his book “May Day for Justice” was a crime story.
“It is the story of the most horrible crime committed in the history of Malaysia, a crime far exceeding in gravity the works of Botak Chin the gangster, the government ministers who stole public money or committed murder, and all those drug traffickers hanged so far in our prisons,” he said at a seminar held just before the book appeared on the market.
“The criminals were the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Attorney-General of Malaysia,” he said. “These two characters did something which had not ever happened in the history of the world. Sometime in the middle of the year, they actually stole one whole day away from the calendar.”
Das’ book was about the 1988 sacking of the Lord President of the Supreme Court, Salleh Abas. He was credited as Salleh’s co-writer.
He told the seminar participants that he had serious doubts that the sacking was the wish of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as Malaysians were officially told.
According to a report prepared by the then attorney-general, the King ordered Salleh’s removal during an audience with the then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the morning of May 1, after the weekly Cabinet meeting.
“One question nagged me,” Das said. “Why did the PM have an official audience with the King on a Sunday, May 1, 1988? It was not only a Sunday; it was Labour Day. It was not only Labour Day; it was also in the middle of the fasting month.”
He alleged that Salleh’s dismissal was plotted by someone who had, in a botched deception, mistakenly used the wrong dates for the sequence of events.
“The great deception was actually there in the five-volume report of the tribunal,” he said, referring to the panel of judges that impeached the chief justice. “No one saw it for a long long time. I did not see it for some nine months after I started reading the report.
“The discovery of the deception, I must say, gave me the willies. I had the cold shivers. I thought I was getting old and imagining things.” The missing letter
Das was not alone in his suspicion. Several senior lawyers also privately expressed their puzzlement and wondered whether the audience actually took place.
Although he had finished writing the book, Das told the seminar participants, he had not solved the mystery of the date. “I actually finished the book without solving this mystery of the Sunday audience.
“I finished writing the first draft late in October 1988. It was only a draft, about 150 pages long.
“I went to Tun Salleh with it. He was about to go to London to deliver his John Foster Lecture, which was on the same subject – his removal based on this report of the tribunal. He took a copy of my draft with him.”
During Salleh’s absence, Das reviewed the tribunal report, looking for clues as to why the document was so badly flawed. He said he found many major errors and the report looked to him as if it was hastily compiled.
“I discovered, for example, that Chapter 4 of the report, cited Annexure No. 6 as a letter from the prime minister saying that Tun Salleh was suspended from office as of May 26. I searched the report very diligently, over and over, thinking that the printer made a mistake.
“It was not there. What was there at Annexure No.6 was Tun Salleh’s own letter, offering to retire early. The prime minister’s letter was missing.”
He said he checked other copies of the report, including the version printed by the Supreme Court Journal.
“No, there was no mistake. The letter was missing.
“I had to conclude that someone did not want that piece of information to be made public.”
Das said he examined the dates on letters exchanged between the prime minister and the King and became even more puzzled.
“It was one of the first hints of administrative acrobatics. His Majesty’s replies to the PM were on three occasions, at least, made on the same day. The first fast exchange was dated May 25, on a busy Cabinet day, a Wednesday. The second one was Thursday, June 9. The third quick exchange was on June 11, a Saturday that was a half working day.
“One had to admit that this was remarkable speed.
“The curious thing about this great alacrity, of course, was that while it took 15 days for His Majesty to react to Tun Salleh’s allegedly faulty letter, things were now processing at break-neck speed. Replies to letters came on the same day, even on Saturdays.”
Same typewriter used?
But Das also discovered something even more astonishing. “Another thing which intrigued me as a writer of some years’ standing was that the letters from the PM and His Majesty appeared to be written on the same typewriter.”
His conclusion was that between May 23 and 27, a plan was hatched hastily. “It was clear that together they had hastily concocted the dates as soon as they found out that Tun Salleh had fixed the date for the Supreme Court hearing of the Umno case.
“Tun Salleh had made the decision on May 23 in Ipoh, when he was there on Supreme Court business. He fixed the Umno case to decide on the appeal against the party being declared unlawful. He decided that the entire Supreme Court should sit on June 13. Four days later, Tun Salleh was suspended.”
Das said it must have been the hurrying that caused the blunders.
“Someone was in such a hurry he did not consult a calendar. He either thought no one would notice or he was cynical enough not to care if anyone did. After all, who would challenge the authorities, especially with Lim Kit Siang and company carefully locked up in Kamunting?”