Make Malaysia a class act

December 25, 2015

Make Malaysia a class act

by Azmi Sharom

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For a Better Malaysia, yes we can

Despite wanting to think of nothing but indulging in Christmas buffets, I found myself reading an old case the other day (what can I say; it’s my job). It was the Government of Kelantan v the Government of the Federation of Malaya (1963).

Basically that was the time when the state government objected to the formation of Malaysia because it said that it was never consulted. The Kelantan Government lost because the Judge found that there was nothing in the Constitution that compelled the Federal Government to consult with the states on the creation of Malaysia.

Anyway, I am not going to give a constitutional law lecture here.The reason I raise this case is because I found the opening statement by the judge fascinating.

Let me repeat it here (OK, I admit, I am copying long quotes because I am in holiday mood and I’m taking the easy way to fill up column inches). However, on to Chief Justice James Thomson.

“Before dealing with this application I would express my great appreciation of the assistance I have derived from the arguments of counsel. I would make it clear that if I do not discuss these arguments with the thoroughness which they deserve, it is not due to any discourtesy but due to the necessity of disposing of the application today,” he said.

“I would also express my appreciation of the temperance and restraint with which counsel on both sides have stated their case and, in particular, of the acceptance by each side of the sincerity of the other.

The difference between the parties are clearly very profound. That they should have been prepared to discuss them here with such moderation and sympathy for each other’s point of view augurs well for the future of the country”.

Notice he started off with thanking the lawyers for their assistance and then effectively apologising for not having the time to discuss their arguments in-depth. Manners maketh the man, as they say. Furthermore, as the second paragraph shows, it wasn’t just the Judge who behaved in a polite manner. The lawyers too were commended for their civility towards one another and how they practised restraint despite being on diametrically opposed camps dealing with a passionate subject matter.

This opening statement by the Judge and his description of the behaviour of the lawyers just reeks of class. It is that intangible quality that raises one above the crude and the crass.

To be able to do battle without resorting to lowering oneself to the basest of speech and action.To be able to act with humility even when one holds the highest judicial office in the land. My goodness, how we are lacking such class today. If the powerful are corrupt, can we be surprised if the lowly are too? If the high and mighty behave like thugs, can we be surprised if the hoi polloi do so too?

In present times, one would be hard-pressed to find examples of those with the power and the influence over society acting in a way that is dignified and noble. On the contrary, we have men and women purporting to be leaders but behaving in a manner that ought to be scorned if conducted by the meanest of the citizenry, let alone those who stalk the corridors of power. In short, we don’t have any class.

I am struck and quite saddened by the Chief Justice’s last sentence, where he points out that such good behaviour as displayed by the lawyers on both sides augured well for the nation. I believe he would be disappointed to see that his prophecy was far from accurate.


2016 – A Year of Mullahs in Malaysia

Be that as it may, this is no way to end my Christmas article. I declare that we the people can bring a bit of class to this sad little country of ours. We can do so by behaving in a manner that does not pander to the crass and the uncouth. We battle them, of course, but with dignity and with honour. We do not lower ourselves to their level. We can show some class.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everybody!

Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

16 thoughts on “Make Malaysia a class act

  1. Unfortunately the same thing is happening here in the US. Witness the totally “low class” and insulting remarks that Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and most of the other Republican candidates are saying.
    Merry Xmas, Ambassador Malott, Rumi, David and the family from Kamsiah and I.Thanks for your contributions. We appreciate your efforts ,but at the end of the day, it has to be our fight against corrupt kleptocratic rulers. Unfortunately, our biggest enemy is indifference. When everything is good enough, nothing is really good. Greg is coming over to DC. I know you both will interact well. We will work to ensure that we get you to Phnom Penh in 2016.–Din Merican

  2. I really like this young academic Azmi Sharom. He is an epitome of a gentleman — class, dignity, honor and respect. I like his writing style — straight to the point with short sentences in simple English, absolutely not in a pompous way to show off his high education by using big and fancy words most people do not understand. Din, I wish more people will play golf to learn and understand the nine core values of golf: Honesty, Responsibility, Integrity, Sportmanship, Judgement, Respect, Perseverance, Confidence and Courtesy. Din, I hereby wishing you and your lovely wife, and everyone on this blog, a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
    I learned golf from Arnold Palmer personally in 1969. The charismatic Palmer is a legend and he has lots of class, true sportsmanship and style. The others I like are Gary Player and the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus. Happy Xmas and a Great New You to you and family. LaMoy, thanks for your good wishes and your contribution to the blog.–Din Merican

  3. A very perceptive and uplifting article – yes, there is no reason why, whatever our social status be, we cannot conduct ourselves with nobility and demand nothing less from those around us. We have a fine line to tread to display such nobility when combating those in power who oppress us. But that is probably also the most effective way to do it in the long run.

  4. It’s saddening to read of our system of judiciary today because we lost great judges of courage with guts without fear or favor to deliver great judgments during those years. It was completely changed when Mahathir took the judiciary to new heights to favor Government by setting different levels and removing the jury system when he took over the regime. I can still faintly remember, though it’s blur in my mind, the turn of events took place when Judge Harun dealt on the case ‘Mahathir’s dilemma’ which was flashed in bold capitals on the front page of ‘The Star’. That led the media to bow to the pressure of the Government thereafter.

    We used to read the best of the judgments and the arguments of lawyers, both in criminal and civil courts. Great judges and lawyers fought the cases in open courts vehemently and tirelessly to deliver judgments soon after hearing unlike today many cases are decided in chambers and judges take their time to deliver their judgments even when it is a straight forward case judges take time to deliver judgement another date.

    Landmark case like Anwar’s Sodomy 2, at its appeal unprecedentedly delivered the judgement soon after the case came to close. Perhaps these 3 judges were highly ‘intelligent’ and could read the case while in progress to come to verdict without any hesitation. They rushed the case to conclude without even listening to late Karpal for time to his mitigation points to raise before sentencing which led to argument till the wee hours.

    I hope New Year would bring some changes with some judges taking bold steps without fear to reform the dignity of courts to its highest esteem.


  5. Golf has been the bane for this country because the handicapping system was used by the Late Tan Sri Ghazali to explain the introduction of the NEP. But, unfortunately, he forgot to include the concept of graduation which is inherent in the use of the handicapping system in golf.

  6. Azmi Sharom’s piece makes my day and Christmas. Thank you Mr Merican for posting this: best piece so far for me for this time of year: his sharpness of application of good examples in the midst of the gloom and doom brings hope, quiet and cheerful and undaunted courage and confidence to battle on. So proud of an upright rakyat who is able to advocate from his discipline what this tiny trodden corner of the earth lacks and needs.

    To add to Lamoy’s list I see humility in Azmi’s prose as he shares so succinctly his noble longings for us as a land and people of dignity and honour, justice and integrity, stewardship and accountability. TS Eliot’s truism ‘the humankind cannot face too much reality’ is all over the place in Malaysia (the criminality, waywardness, macabre and diabolical being so brazenly pushed under the tikar).

    Azmi defies that. Thank you Azmi.

  7. If our leaders, in political and institutional, positions are incapable of critical thinking, overriding all thoughts by political servitude, how can class, the very definition of high standards be possible. Mediocrity is not only institutionalised, its culturalized.

    One of the most shocking things I have heard was from a so called young Malay prodigy who complained his business failure was due to a lack of support not only from govt but also from Malaysian at large. When even the gifted by God is over- entitled, class or any high standards that cannot be purchased is simply not possible.

  8. As a law teacher, this is good example for your students to learn. U clearly pointed out the good act of the judge n lawyers. Good writing.
    Wish u enjoy your buffet.
    Merry Chrismas n Happy New Year 2016 to all.

  9. Azmi Sharom is an exemplary academic – a deep social and political thinker. A wonderful note from him on a Christmas day. I wonder if ‘Sharom’ has any relative significance to his forceful mind and world view.

  10. Those were the classy days that many would have profoundly missed today, not just at the bench , but at prestigious sports clubs( particularly golf and horse racing )
    where quality has been compromised for qualities, race over meritocracy or wealth over decency.

    …and in the political and social areas, nobility and pride in serving the people ,particularly the poor and unfortunate are compromised for greed and self-serving interests.

    All is not lost as there are still many people like Azmi, Din’s blog readers and contributors who would really appreciate the values with the meaning of ” Class” and determine to maintain its rightful place in the hearts and mind of all humanity.

    Congratulations on your successful 2015 blog’ contributions and best wishes for coming 2016.
    ,Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
    Thanks. But it is people like you who make this blog interesting. Good wishes for 2016. –Din Merican

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