Malaysia Appoints First Woman Attorney-General
Malaysia appointed its first woman attorney-general on Tuesday and a minister said he hoped the move would help create a fairer judicial system.
Ainum Mohamed Saaid will take over on January 1 from Mohtar Abdullah, who oversaw the controversial prosecution of ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim and of several leading opposition figures.
Ainum is currently deputy chief executive of the Securities Commission, the stock market watchdog. She has been appointed for a two-year term, the prime minister's office said in a statement quoted by Bernama news agency.
On Wednesday a new chief justice also takes office. The appointment of Dzaiddin Abdullah has been widely welcomed by local lawyers.
Rais Yatim, minister with special responsibility for legal affairs, said that with the two appointments "I am confident that begining 2001 we will begin re-examining the administration of justice in the country in a more orderly and fair manner."
Malaysia's judicial system has come in for strong international criticism, especially over the handling of the cases against Anwar.
Rais, quoted by Bernama, said there was a need to look into various aspects of the administration of justice and not "simply cry out about justice without attaching concrete meaning to it.
"We may also have to look into the way citizens are treated to various mechanisms of arrest, detention or imprisonment," he added without elaborating.
Rights groups have criticised the Internal Security Act, which allows detention with trial.
The attorney-general serves as public prosecutor and government legal adviser. Mohtar's term was due to end last year but was twice extended.
Anwar is serving a total of 15 years after being convicted in separate trials of abuse of power and sodomy.
He says he was framed in a conspiracy masterminded by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad -- an accusation which the government denies.
International legal organisations, human rights groups and the US State Department criticised the conduct of both trials.
In April four international legal organisations including the International Bar Association said in a report there were "well-founded" concerns about judicial independence.
Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party, said one of Ainum's greatest challenges would be "to restore full public confidence in the independence, integrity and professionalism of her office."
Ainum, 54, has a law degree from the University of Singapore and a higher legal degree from a Belgian university. She worked for 26 years in the judicial and legal service before taking retirement from government service in 1996.
Muslim-majority Malaysia also has a woman solicitor-general and central bank governor, as well as two female cabinet ministers.
"Nowadays the government is being taken over by women," Mahathir was quoted by Tuesday's New Straits Times as saying.
"The men are too lazy to learn, they are too busy demonstrating, so we don't have enough candidates." -- KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)
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