KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Cabinet announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Monday (Mar 9) was a “safe” lineup that accommodated the interests of his coalition partners, as well as expectations from people for a clean government, said analysts interviewed by CNA.
In a break from tradition, Mr Muhyiddin appointed four senior ministers in his Cabinet, in lieu of a deputy premier.
The four senior ministers are former Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) member Mr Azmin Ali, United Malays National Organisation’s (UMNO) Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob, Gabungan Parti Sarawak’s (GPS) Mr Fadillah Yusof and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (Bersatu) Dr Mohd Radzi Md Jidin.
Universiti Malaya Sarawak’s Dr Jeniri Amir noted that it was a delicate balancing act for the new prime minister.
“He has taken into account all factors including all the component parties that have contributed to his appointment as prime minister and the formation of Perikatan Nasional.
“Overall, it is a predictable and safe Cabinet and people are where they are supposed to be,” he said.
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Commenting on Mr Azmin’s appointment, Dr Jeniri said it was due to political necessity.
“Azmin brought in 10 additional parliamentarians to the table for the prime minister. So obviously he needs prominence ... His (Mr Azmin’s) political contribution needs to be taken in to ensure Mr Muhyiddin’s position is not jeopardised,” he said
He added that it was wise of Mr Muhyiddin to exclude UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in his Cabinet.
“It shows that he honours his word to have a Cabinet made up of people with integrity,” he said.
Last week, the prime minister said in a national address that he would form a government that is clean, has integrity and free of corruption.
Similarly, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Dr Ahmad Fauzi said Mr Muhyiddin was smart to have avoided some contentious names.
“The people would not want those charged with corruption cases,” he said, adding that it was a good sign that the prime minister was in line with public sentiments.
There are several senior UMNO figures who are now embroiled in graft trials, including former prime minister Najib Razak, Zahid and UMNO treasurer Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor.
4 SENIOR MINISTERS, BUT NO DPM
Prof Ahmad Fauzi added that the decision to appoint four senior ministers was a clever move.
“Not having a deputy avoids the stress of choosing the ideal candidate to take on as an immediate successor. In case anything happens to him, being a cancer survivor, the absence of a deputy closes the possibility of an intra-Cabinet tussle for the job.
“If something does happen, then the senior ministers will have to collectively decide (on the way forward) with the input of the whole Cabinet,” he said.
Mr Muhyiddin, when announcing his Cabinet, said that having senior ministers will ensure that matters related to the economy, security, infrastructure development, as well as education and social affairs can be coordinated effectively between different ministries.
"The senior ministers will assist me in carrying out duties as the prime minister, including chairing the Cabinet meetings when I am out of the country. With these senior ministers, there is no need at the moment to select a deputy prime minister," he said.
Prof Ahmad Fauzi explained that not having a deputy prime minister, though unusual in Malaysia, was actually common in many other countries. Appointing a deputy premier is not mandated by the Constitution, he said.
Dr Jeniri posited that Mr Muhyiddin could be keeping the deputy premier position vacant, for a certain UMNO parliamentarian to eventually take over.
“I think he wants to reserve that position until a certain UMNO leader has his name cleared. Constitutionally, he can do that,” he said.
PRESERVING BORNEO’S POLITICAL INTERESTS
Analysts also noted that the Cabinet line-up takes into account Borneo’s political interests, as the prime minister needs Borneo’s support to have a stronger majority in parliament.
Besides the appointment of Mr Fadillah as senior minister, the new Cabinet has six ministers and seven deputy ministers from Borneo. This is a significant representation in Mr Muhyiddin’s inner circle.
“Rightfully so, because their support is important,” says Dr Jeniri.
He added that GPS got the “best deal” this time around. The representation of Borneo politicians in the Cabinet was necessary for the prime minister, as it is a signal of ethnic diversity and a move to strengthen Mr Muhyiddin’s hand in parliament, said Dr Jeniri.
“Their political contribution should be taken into account. To ensure there is no upset in the balance,” he said.
GPS’ support for Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister was important in tipping the balance in his favour at the height of the political crisis last month.
Following the announcement by the king to appoint Mr Muhyiddin as the eighth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad have indicated that they would table a motion of no confidence against Mr Muhyiddin at the next parliament sitting on May 18.
However, Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs told CNA that despite having a large number of Borneo ministers in the Cabinet, most of them were given “peripheral” portfolios.
“Besides Mr Fadillah who has the Works Ministry, the Cabinet looks very much as it did in the pre-2018 Malaysia General Election.
“As usual, East Malaysians are relegated to some of the more technical and more peripheral ministries.”
LACK OF MINORITY RACE MINISTERS AN AREA OF CONCERN
Some cited the lack of minority race ministers in the Cabinet as a potential area of concern.
Under the lineup, Mr Wee Ka Siong, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) was made Transport Minister, while Malaysian Indian Congress’ (MIC) Mr Saravanan Murugan would head the Human Resources Ministry.
Mr Wee Jeck Seng was appointed as the deputy minister for the Ministry of Plantation and Commodities, while Mr Lim Ban Hong was appointed as the deputy minister for the International Trade and Industries Ministry. Both are from MCA.
Additionally, the newly appointed deputy education minister Dr Mah Hang Soon is also a member of MCA. He and Mr Lim will be appointed senators on Tuesday.
Despite these appointments, Dr Ahmad Fauzi said the lack of representation of ethnic minorities in the Cabinet may backfire on the prime minister, given the nature of racial politics in Malaysia.
“It is the very first time that there is so little representation of Chinese and Indian in the Cabinet. It’s an international perception that Perikatan Nasional would be very Malay-centric and this has been proven in the Cabinet selection,” he noted.
Dr Jeniri, however said that Mr Muhyiddin has “done enough”.
“At least there is one Indian and one Chinese (serving as full ministers) in the Cabinet,” he said.
He was echoed by Dr Oh who said the small allocation for the ethic minorities was a “political necessity”.
“Most of those who supported Perikatan are Malays. And if he (Mr Muhyiddin) was to reach out and add senators, honestly there aren’t many senator positions,” said Dr Oh.
“This is politics and because many of them (Indians and Chinese) supported the PH coalition, you cannot award them ministries.”