Najib expected to fill Cabinet vacancies this week

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at the opening of the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at the opening of the International Conference on Deradicalisation and Countering Violent Extremism in Kuala Lumpur. PHOTO: REUTERS

At least five ministerial and deputy ministerial posts have become vacant in past few months

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to fill vacancies in the Cabinet this week, in what is seen as minor changes before the country's next general election, which has to be called by mid-2018.

At least five vacant ministerial and deputy ministerial positions are to be filled, following recent events - both tragic and political - in the past few months.

While local media reported that the changes are to be announced today, The Straits Times understands that the announcement is likely to come early in the week.

The empty slots include two ministerial positions in the Prime Minister's Department following the departure of Datuk Seri Idris Jala and Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar. Mr Idris' senatorship expired last August while Mr Wahid's one-term tenure as senator ended on June 4. They relinquished their ministerial posts accordingly.

Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas has returned to his home state Sarawak as deputy chief minister, giving up his role as plantation industries and commodities minister. The ministry lost its deputy, Datuk Noriah Kasnon, in a helicopter crash in Sarawak last month.

The empty slots include two ministerial positions in the Prime Minister's Department following the departure of Datuk Seri Idris Jala and Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar. Mr Idris' senatorship expired last August while Mr Wahid's one-term tenure as senator ended on June 4.

The position of deputy domestic trade, cooperatives and consumerism minister was made vacant in February when incumbent Ahmad Bashah became Kedah Menteri Besar, taking over from sacked Umno veteran Mukhriz Mahathir.

The Star daily reported that another Sarawakian politician is likely to take over Mr Douglas Uggah's old spot, citing sources. After ruling coalition Barisan Nasional's (BN) thumping victory in Sarawak, another deputy ministerial post would be given to a Sarawakian MP.

Among the other names that the newspaper has mentioned, the most high-profile is that of Higher Education Minister Idris Jusoh, who the paper suggests may take over Mr Wahid's post as a minister tasked with economic planning. Another is Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi, who could be promoted to a full-fledged minister.

Datuk Seri Najib has been tightening his grip on the government since allegations of corruption involving him and indebted state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad surfaced last July. Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing. After a Cabinet reshuffle last year, he has acted to stifle dissent within his Umno party and to broaden support.

The changes expected this week are mostly procedural, however, for the government to continue its day-to-day operations.

Mr Najib is likely to turn his focus to gearing BN up for the next general election, following a morale-booster in the back-to-back victories in the Sarawak polls and the recently concluded twin by-elections.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Najib expected to fill Cabinet vacancies this week'. Print Edition | Subscribe