KUALA LUMPUR - Ex-Attorney-General Tommy Thomas has been branded anti-Malay after his recently-published memoir caused a furious backlash for perceived insults against Malaysia's majority race.
My Story - Justice in the Wilderness, details - among other things - the many racialised controversies that riddled and ultimately destabilised the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government that lasted all of 22 months after its shock victory at the May 2018 election.
Tan Sri Thomas, 69, who is of Indian ethnicity and served during PH's short-lived administration, was the first non-Malay to be appointed the country's top legal adviser.
The book recounts how his appointment, as well as those of ex-Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng and Tan Sri Richard Malanjum as the first ever non-Muslim Chief Justice, drew fire for placing non-Malays and non-Muslims in senior government posts.
Other claims in the book have riled up right-wing elements in the Malay-Muslim community, already a dominant presence in government and other institutions of power.
The memoir describes the civil service - more than three-quarters of which comprise Malays - as lacking in commitment and incompetent.
It also questions the discretionary powers of the King, who is revered as the guardian of Malay and Islamic interests.
And it accuses Malaysia's second prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein of masterminding a coup by igniting the 1969 race riots in which "hundreds of Malay youths brandishing parangs, krises and knives turn on their fellow citizens, the Chinese".
A total of 134 police reports have been lodged about the book so far, and there are calls for it to be banned and copies seized.
The backlash, especially from Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) - the strongest proponents of Malay-Muslim political dominance - demonstrates how this issue will continue to weigh on multicultural PH at the next election, which could be held as soon as the second half of this year.
"Malay supremacy has become a permanent fixture in the day to day running of the country. Pakatan can present the most progressive plans for Malaysia at the next general election, but in practice it will have to work around the ideology," BowerGroupAsia political analyst Adib Zalkapli told The Straits Times.
In theory, Mr Thomas' views are personal to him, and based on his knowledge and experience as a constitutional law expert. But he used to wield considerable power as the ultimate decision-maker on who to prosecute, and his words and deeds reflect on the PH administration that appointed him in 2018.
Under his watch, criminal proceedings against 12 suspects accused of being sympathisers of defunct Sri Lankan terror group Tamil Tigers were halted, in stark contrast to the hundreds of Muslims who have been arrested or charged due to links with Islamic extremists in recent years. Meanwhile the graft case against Mr Lim, secretary-general of the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), was swiftly dropped.
The concept of Malay supremacy is so entrenched in politics that Mr Thomas has been labelled anti-Malay even by his own erstwhile allies.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has quickly sought to distance his PH coalition from the senior lawyer, who has since returned to private practice.
"It betrays a deep seated, even Freudian like, prejudice against Malays fomented through years of racism," the PH chief said of the memoir.
Even the Prime Minister who appointed Mr Thomas has not given the nearly 600-page book a glowing review.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad insisted that he defended the Attorney-General even when "the anger of the Malays against me was terrible". Mr Thomas however said that Dr Mahathir had asked him to step down the day after the King assented to his appointment, due to the outcry from the Malay community.
Mr Thomas said in his memoir: "Everything I did was painted in racial tones and hues. The brainwashing achieved its objectives. Objectively speaking, attacks on non-Malay holders of two offices (himself and Mr Lim) in a government otherwise dominated by Malays just did not make any sense. It was neither rational nor logical."