Mahathir says Cabinet to have 29 people, denies squabbling behind the scenes

Mahathir says Cabinet to have 29 people, denies squabbling behind the scenes

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's full Cabinet is expected to have 29 people, and the list will be announced once the king gives his approval. In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia's Sumisha Naidu, he also addressed fears of an impending fallout with his former rival Anwar Ibrahim and denied talk of squabbling behind the scenes.

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's full Cabinet is expected to have 29 people, and the list is expected to be announced once the king gives his approval for the swearing-in ceremony to be conducted.

In an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia, where he addressed issues ranging from the water supply deal with Singapore to investigations against former prime minister Najib Razak, Dr Mahathir denied talk of rifts within the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

"It's not true (that there's squabbling delaying the full Cabinet announcement)," he said. "I have already finished my list and I have submitted it to the king." 

Pakatan Harapan won the general election for the first time in the nation's history on May 9. But since then, only a core Cabinet of 14 people have been announced. 

Each party in the coalition had submitted a list of names for Dr Mahathir's consideration although the prime minister said he did "inform the heads of the parties, that (he) will be choosing people who may not be in their list, and they have not protested".

"I called up the people, ministers and deputy ministers to ask them whether they accept the post I'm giving them ... And strangely, there was not much protest," he told Channel NewsAsia's Conversation With.

"There was some who felt that well, I should have given this and that ... but when it was pointed out to them that I have already filled up those places, they didn’t protest, they accepted."

At a press conference later in the day, Dr Mahathir said that the 29 names had all been finalised and that the swearing in ceremony would be conducted "when the agong (king) is available". 

ON THE PAKATAN HARAPAN COALITION

Pakatan Harapan is made up of four component parties with different ideologies, including one led by Dr Mahathir's former rival, Anwar Ibrahim. 

They came together ahead of the polls to successfully defeat scandal-plagued Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional - the coalition that had led Malaysia since its formation. 

The 92-year-old then once again took the reins of the country he first led in 1981 for more than two decades. 

There has been concern if his coalition is sustainable but Dr Mahathir believes he has their support and that his government is doing things differently. 

"It was much more difficult (when I was with BN) of course, because before, there was a dominant party. UMNO (the United Malays National Organisation) was a dominant party," he said.

"But here, you have to listen to four different voices. And you have to then summarise and say, this is generally what you believe, and then get their agreement. But fortunately for us, we were able to reach agreement despite the fact that people say our coalition is not a very strong coalition."

ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH ANWAR

The relationship between Anwar and Dr Mahathir is still being watched closely, however, given their strained past

Anwar was Dr Mahathir's deputy in the 1990s before being sacked. He was jailed soon after on charges he blamed the prime minister of orchestrating.

Their reconciliation, however, is based on Pakatan Harapan's pledge that Anwar will take over as prime minister after Dr Mahathir steps down.

Anwar was serving a second prison sentence at the time of the elections, being released days after Pakatan's victory. In the interim, Anwar is part of the top leadership of the coalition although he has no government post.

This is something Dr Mahathir points out when asked about comments Anwar has made on government policy, including suggesting that finance minister Lim Guan Eng stop exposing scandals as his words impact the markets.

"(Anwar) is like everybody else, he can comment - make any comment. He's not in the government," he said. 

"But generally, once we agree on something in the Cabinet we stick to that decision ... but others who are not in the Cabinet may make their own comments. They can say what they like. But we are the government."

The prime minister, however, said he will step down if he cannot work with people who are against him, when asked about fears of an impending fallout between the two leaders. 

"Well, there can be a fallout between me and many, many people. But I have always been able to stay and work with people who were against me," he remarked.

"I was there for 22 years. I had a lot of people who were against me ... but I managed. So, if I cannot manage, then I step down."

But can the prime minister offer an assurance to the Malaysian people that things are well in his coalition, almost 50 days in?

"At the moment, I think I have strong support from a majority of people," he said.

To watch the full interview, tune in to Conversation With on Thursday (Jun 28) at 9.30pm (SIN/HK).

Source: CNA/zl(cy)

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