Mahathir expected to strike fine balance in Cabinet

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is said to be seeking to redress the lack of East Malaysian leaders and have more women in the government line-up.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is said to be seeking to redress the lack of East Malaysian leaders and have more women in the government line-up.PHOTO: AFP

He may redress lack of East Malaysia leaders, women as he grapples with parties' demands

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is expected to finalise his full Cabinet after this weekend's Hari Raya celebrations, taking six weeks since his May election win to strike a fine balance between the competing demands of his four-party Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact.

The Straits Times understands the 92-year-old will seek to redress the lack of East Malaysian leaders and have more women in the line-up.

He will also need to placate leaders of the two largest parties in his government, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Democratic Action Party (DAP), who have each demanded more than six representatives in the promised 25-strong Cabinet.

"It is a unique situation, some parties have to be very conscious of internal and external sensitivities, but Mahathir also wants a slimmed-down Cabinet, so there are fewer ministries to go around," a top PH official said of ongoing negotiations.

The former Najib Razak administration had as many as 37 ministers, including the premier. It is unclear whether Tun Dr Mahathir's 25 includes himself, but an earlier promise of a "core team" of 10 saw him appointing instead 12 others besides himself and Deputy Premier Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Cabinet positions have been a major flashpoint for the fledgling PH government whose four parties, as well as ally Parti Warisan Sabah from Sabah, are jointly ruling Malaysia for the first time.

  • 25

    Number of ministers expected in Dr Mahathir Mohamad's Cabinet.

    6

    Both PKR and DAP have demanded more than this number of representatives in the Cabinet.

Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia has only 13 MPs, yet it has the most members in Cabinet at present as the Premier gave important portfolios to his trusted lieutenants. PKR, which has 49 MPs - the highest in the alliance - has the fewest ministers.

The former Barisan Nasional administration rewarded its allies in East Malaysia - where 54 of Parliament's 222 seats reside - with up to 14 ministers, after they became crucial to ensuring a parliamentary majority.

With Dr Mahathir having fewer MPs from Sabah and Sarawak in his government, the two states could collectively see just four ministers from their shores.

"It could be up to five or six. But he can send the right signal, by handing important ministries such as International Trade and Industry as well as Works to Sabah and Sarawak," a top Sabahan leader told The Straits Times.

According to a purported Cabinet list published by news portal The Malaysian Insight on Wednesday, the works minister will be PKR's Sarawak chief Baru Bian, while Warisan's deputy president Darell Leiking will be Trade minister.

But PH sources say the list was floated to test the waters as "any list without DAP Sarawak chief Chong Chieng Jen is not a good list".

DAP vice-chairman Teresa Kok also declared the list "fake news" and insisted she would not take up the role of federal territories minister as reported, as she wants the portfolio abolished and local polls held to elect a mayor instead.

Asked for its response, the Prime Minister's Office told The Straits Times that it was not commenting on the purported Cabinet list.

When contacted, Mr Leiking acknowledged that Warisan would hope to feature significantly, but understood the constraints Dr Mahathir was under.

"Since it is in the PH manifesto to review the Malaysia Agreement, Dr Mahathir could instead empower the governments of Sabah and Sarawak by making their respective leaders de facto deputy prime ministers to carry out the Prime Minister's agenda in East Malaysia," he said.

The Penampang MP was referring to the 1963 treaty signed between Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore to form Malaysia as equal partners. Singapore left the federation in 1965.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2018, with the headline 'Mahathir expected to strike fine balance in Cabinet'. Print Edition | Subscribe