KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been dropped after Prime Minister Najib Razak carried out a cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday (Jul 28).
Mr Muhyiddin will be replaced by Home Minister Zahid Hamidi, Mr Najib announced in a televised address to the nation. Chief of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee Nur Jazlan Mohamed has been appointed Deputy Home Minister.
“This new cabinet ensures that the Government has the strength and unity to focus on my development plans for Malaysia, and the challenges we currently face," Mr Najib said.
“Following the democratic mandate given to the Barisan Nasional Government in the 2013 General Election, it is my duty to ensure that the Government delivers on our transformation programme."
Mr Muhyiddin had on Sunday made his first public remarks on the graft scandal at the state wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), urging Mr Najib for explanations on the saga.
This was followed on Monday by the Prime Minister’s Office issuing a statement urging “all administrative officials including the deputy prime minister” to wait for the results of the investigation on the graft scandal.
“The cabinet must act as one solid team," Mr Najib said in his televised address. "I welcome vigorous debate, and can accept dissent and criticism. However, this process should take place in cabinet as part of the decision-making process.
"Members of the cabinet should not air their differences in an open forum that can affect public opinion against the government and Malaysia. It is contrary to the concept of collective responsibility that is the foundation of cabinet government."
Mr Najib added: “The decision to replace Muhyiddin Yassin was very difficult, but leadership is about doing what you think is right. To deliver for Malaysia, I must have a solid and unified team moving in the same direction."
Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who retained his portfolio, said the cabinet reshuffle is the "prerogative" of the Prime Minister when asked whether Mr Najib acted in order to remove his critics. "This is not something new," he said. "Cabinet reshuffles have been done by previous Prime Ministers."
State-run Bernama news agency said the premier also sacked Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, who was involved in investigations into corruption allegations related to the Najib-linked company.
The Prime Minister and 1MDB have vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Mr Najib appeared to allude to Muhyiddin's criticisms in announcing his replacement.
"Any difference in opinion is not supposed to be expressed in an open forum, which is against the concept of collective responsibility in the government," Najib said.
Other ministers who were dropped include Mohd Shafie Apdal (Rural and Regional Development Minister), Hasan Malek (Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister), G Palanivel (Natural Resources and Environment Minister) and Ewon Ebin (Science, Technology and Innovation Minister).
MOUNTING PRESSURE OVER 1MDB
Najib has come under mounting pressure over the past year amid a drip-feed of allegations related to 1MDB, which he launched in 2009. He still chairs its advisory board.
The Wall Street Journal reported this month that Malaysian government investigators had discovered that nearly US$700 million had moved through government agencies, banks and companies linked to 1MDB before ending up in Najib's personal accounts.
The premier has denied the report as "political sabotage", while 1MDB has said it did not transfer any funds to the premier. 1MDB is reeling under US$11 billion in debt, blamed largely on a much-questioned drive to acquire power-industry assets.
Fears that it may collapse or need a massive bailout have contributed to a recent slide in the ringgit currency to 17-year lows. A government statement cited by Bernama said Mr Abdul Gani's appointment had been "terminated effective July 27 due to health reasons".
But the announcements touched off speculation that Najib was moving to contain the damage from the scandal.
Last week the home ministry suspended for three months the publishing permits of The Edge Media Group, which is known for its aggressive reporting on 1MDB.
The overseas Sarawak Report, an activist website that had also published a series of exposes, has also been blocked.