How do Malaysian courts manage to defy UMNO?

Last week, I asked how and why Malaysia’s High Court ruled against the government and allowed the Herald to use the word “Allah” in its publication. After all, Malaysia’s political elites are known to exert influence over judges, especially for politically-sensitive cases. The answer: it didn’t. According to The Straits Times, the High Court suspended its decision pending an appeal to the Court of Appeals.

This sounds a bit more like the Malaysia I know. The elites exert the greatest influence over the higher courts. This happens in courts in other competitive authoritarian systems. It is much cheaper and less difficult to monitor and influence a small group of senior justices than try to control the entire judiciary. Furthermore, judicial appeal to the highest court serves as a signaling device, telling political elites that those are the most controversial cases. Malaysia’s elites seem to use this model, generally not interfering with lower cases but making sure the senior ranks of the judiciary remain loyal.

I’ll post another entry as soon as the Court of Appeals makes its decision. In the meantime, I think it’s fair to predict that the Court of Appeals will reverse the High Court’s decision.

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