KUALA LUMPUR - The month-old Malaysian government has appointed the president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) as special envoy to the Middle East, with the rank of minister.
The Islamist party led by Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, 72, helped to form the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government at the end of February following the shock resignation of then premier Mahathir Mohamad and the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration.
PN consists of five factions - most MPs from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) led by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, a renegade group of nine MPs from Parti Keadilan Rakyat who have since joined Bersatu, Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN), PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak.
Mr Hadi's appointment could be seen as a reward for backing the new government that replaced the two-year old PH government.
He was not among the 31 full ministers that Tan Sri Muhyiddin unveiled on March 9, although PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man was made environment minister and PAS secretary-general is now the de facto law minister.
The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement on Thursday (March 2) that Mr Hadi, was chosen as Middle East envoy as he is fluent in Arabic and was vice-president of the influential World Union of Muslim Scholars whose members include prominent Egyptian-born scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
"He (Hadi) was listed as among the 500 most influential Muslims in the category of Preachers and Spiritual Guides by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies based in Jordan in 2016," the statement added.
The PMO did not detail what Mr Hadi's role would be.
His rank indicates that he would get a full minister's salary and perks.
Relations with other countries including those in the Middle East are normally handled by the foreign minister, a post currently held by former Umno vice-president Hishammuddin Hussein.
This is not the first time that a faction leader in a Malaysian administration has been appointed as a special envoy with ministerial rank.
Previous BN governments had leaders from the Malaysian Chinese Association, the Malaysian Indian Congress and even its Umno Women's wing chief as special envoys or advisers with ministerial rank.