ICC Note: Majority-Muslim Malaysia has appointed a Catholic to be the new chief justice. Until now the highest court is often seen as pro-Islamic and sometimes its rulings were seen as favorable to Muslims. The appointment of Richard Malanjum from predominantly Christian Sabah state shows the country’s new leader is reform-minded.
The appointment of Richard Malanjum, 65, from Sabah state on the predominantly Christian island of Borneo, follows elections in May in which the Barisan Nasional coalition government was ousted. It “signifies that Malaysia’s new rulers … are on a reformist course,” according to UCAN.
Until now the highest court in the land was seen as pro-Islamic and some of its rulings were seen as controversial by non-Muslims. Around 60% of Malaysia’s 32 million people are Muslim. There are also significant Buddhist and Hindu minorities, while Christians comprise almost 10% of the population, according to the international charity Open Doors. Two-thirds of the Christians live in East Malaysia, where only 30% of the total population lives.
Although Malanjum reaches retirement age of 66 in October, his tenure can be extended with six months, until April next year.
“He has done a lot of work on trying to bring justice to the poor. … The native courts that are based in the rural areas of Borneo are his brainchild. He once explained to me that justice was hard to come by for the poor and it had been occupying his mind for a long time,” a friend who wished to remain anonymous, told UCAN.
Lack of police and government urgency
Under Malaysia’s previous government, hard-line Islamic institutions appeared to receive backing, targeting the country’s minority faiths, including its Christians.
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