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Setting the Bar higher this elections Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Star
by Chelsea L.Y. Ng

PETALING JAYA: A kosher buffet spread that comes with posters entitled “Your Voice in Bar Council” and featuring 10 candidates has become the talk among legal pundits. Flyers of what the group – made up of Muslims, save for two – had to offer have been distributed on Facebook and WhatsApp messages.

While critics are aplenty, the grouping, comprising of newcomers and old hands at the Bar, seems unfettered. One is the distinguished former Bar president Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah.

Critics are picking on reports that some of the 10 had opposed the ratification of the United Nations’ anti-racial discrimination treaty ICERD.

The group represents a third of the 30 candidates who have filed nomination papers for election to the Bar Council for the 2019/2020 term.

While the number is not the largest on record, it will still be tough to shave it down to the 12 openings available.

Approximately 19,000 members of the Bar are eligible to vote.

Lawyers are expected to receive their ballot papers by post from Nov 8, according to the Bar’s website and that each could only vote for a maximum 12 candidates.

The ballots must be returned to the Bar Council Secretariat by 5.30pm on Nov 30.

These will then be delivered to the election scrutineers the following day. The results are likely to be declared on the same day.

Muhammad Rafique Rashid, a young, smart and aspiring candidate from the team of 10, said he stood for a more member-centric Bar.

“The welfare of the members’ bread and butter issues – let’s take care of our house first,” said Rafique who won for the first time last year.

He wanted young lawyers to have a bigger say.

“Small practitioners should have a mouth piece as well. The Bar must be seen to champion causes affecting its members,” he said.

Sulaiman, 72, brings with him 49 years of experience in the legal field.

He was once the Malaysian Bar secretary and its president. He has been a member since 1989.

Apart from leading the legal team in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s high profile court cases, Sulaiman is also well known as a Syariah and constitutional lawyer.

Moderation activist Datuk Seri Jahaberdeen Yunoos said he would fight for the rule of law to be upheld.

“There is too much sloganeering about rule of law going on without a real purpose,” said the senior lawyer who founded the Rapera charitable movement.

An old hand at the game, Datuk Roger Tan is of the view that democracy should be the rule of the day.

“I think there is nothing wrong for members to profess and hold different views. That is what democracy is all about. The biggest threat to this is our members’ own apathy of failing to vote.

“Whatever the outcome, we lawyers are always united when confronted by any external threat to the independence of the Bar,” said Tan, who has been described as an indefatigable councillor with a good track record of having been voted in several times prior to this.

Another candidate, H.R. Dipendra, said posters would not work as these promoted an agenda with no real interest for Bar members.

“It is better to let the members judge us from our track record. We just have to trust their collective wisdom.

“If chosen, I will want to modernise the legal profession - liberalise the publicity rules and push for Limited Liability Partnership for example,” said Dipendra.

Former Bar president Ragunath Kesavan said that in any democracy, candidates were entitled to campaign and position themselves on any platform provided that there was decorum throughout.

“There is certainly a move by a group of lawyers to campaign seemingly on a religious-based agenda.

“However, I don’t think the members of the Bar will accept any position from the Bar Council that deviates from the rule of law, secularism and justice for all within the provisions of our Federal Constitution.

“My personal view is the menu posters kind of campaign will not get much traction from members,” said Ragunath.

Candidate and former Bar secretary Karen Cheah said the reality of serving in the Bar Council was that one did not have the luxury of choosing one or two causes to advocate for.

“There is a need to serve on a wide spectrum of issues and enhance the legal profession as a whole, understand and resolve the professional needs of our own members in this challenging ecosystem, and balancing all that by also being vigilant to the needs of the public.

“The hope is to contribute as much as I can in the interest of the Malaysian Bar, unite the Bar and maintain its national and international credibility. There is no place for personal agendas. There should be no distinction within the Malaysian Bar as regards gender, race, religion, age and the background one comes from,” said Cheah.

Another candidate Andrew Khoo said that he would work on strengthening the rule of law and the administration of justice, betterment of the legal profession, service to society to promote justice with equity for all and the protection of fundamental liberties.

"We should be engaging with the government to promote legislative, institutional and policy reform that would make Malaysia a stronger democracy and a safer society for all," said Khoo.

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