KUALA LUMPUR: Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob has been appointed as Malaysia’s deputy prime minister, while Mr Hishammuddin Hussein is now a senior minister.
Their respective defence and foreign affairs portfolios remain unchanged. As senior minister, Mr Hishammuddin will take over the role of coordinating minister for security from Mr Ismail Sabri.
In a statement on Wednesday (Jul 7), the Prime Minister's Office said the appointments will increase the ability of Perikatan Nasional (PN) in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthening unity among the political parties that form the government.
The appointments will take place with immediate effect.
On Mr Ismail Sabri's new role, the statement said: "This appointment will be able to assist the prime minister in managing the country's administration and fulfil the people's needs at a time when the country is facing a health and economic crisis."
Mr Hishammuddin would assist Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in implementing the National Recovery Plan, it added.
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This is the first Cabinet reshuffle since the PN government took power in late February last year, following a power tussle.
Mr Ismail Sabri was previously one of the four senior ministers in the Cabinet, which did not have a deputy prime minister post. He has played a prominent role in Malaysia’s response to COVID-19, tasked with communicating the various restrictions.
Both Mr Ismail Sabri and Mr Hishammuddin are politicians from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Mr Ismail Sabri is one of the three vice presidents of the party. Mr Hishammuddin does not hold a position in the party's supreme council currently.
The appointments came amid renewed talks of UMNO considering to pull out of PN. While UMNO has played a crucial role in the formation of the PN government, it has since threatened to withdraw support for Mr Muhyiddin in its path to regain political dominance in Malaysia.
Malaysian media reported that the UMNO supreme council would meet on Wednesday night to discuss this issue.
Mr Muhyiddin, president of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, only commands a slim majority in the parliament.
He was able to avoid leadership challenges since the state of emergency was proclaimed early this year. The parliament is set to sit again from Jul 26, after the king decreed for the houses to reconvene following meetings with key political leaders.