KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has unveiled a new Cabinet, in which he will also hold the post of finance minister while Umno chief Zahid Hamidi becomes deputy prime minister.
The leaner Cabinet comprising 28 ministers was unveiled on Friday, with appointments distributed among the top leaders of coalitions making up the unity government, namely Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional (BN), Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS).
Datuk Seri Anwar, who was sworn in as prime minister last week, said ministers should begin their duties soon and advised them to avoid wastage, bribery and abuse of power.
“I have made it clear to the Cabinet that the unity government prioritises good governance and the need to reduce the people’s burden, as well as focuses on stimulating the economy,” he said.
For the first time in history, two deputy prime ministers were appointed – BN chairman Zahid, who is facing dozens of graft charges and was the deputy prime minister in the Najib Razak administration, and GPS’ Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof, a former works minister.
Mr Fadillah, who is the first deputy prime minister from East Malaysia, will also helm the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry.
PH allies, which have the largest bloc of MPs with 82 parliamentary seats, took the lion’s share of appointments with 15 ministers, including in key portfolios such as finance, home affairs and education.
Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary-general Anthony Loke returned to his Transport Ministry post, which he held under the previous PH government, while Parti Amanah Negara chief Mohamad Sabu, a former defence minister, was assigned the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry.
PH secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail will be helming the Home Affairs Ministry.
Some first-time ministerial appointments from Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) included the party’s deputy president Rafizi Ramli as economic affairs minister, PKR’s first-time MP Zaliha Mustafa as health minister and women’s chief Fadhlina Sidek as education minister. DAP’s Perak chief Nga Kor Ming will be part of the Cabinet for the first time as housing and development minister.
DAP’s Hannah Yeoh, who is a former deputy minister of women, family and community development, will be helming the youth and sports ministry.
The Umno-led BN, which has 30 lawmakers, was given six ministries. Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan will be defence minister, while Ms Azalina Othman will be law minister.
Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who failed to win a parliamentary seat in his election debut on Nov 19, will serve as international trade and industry minister. BN secretary-general Zambry Abdul Kadir, who also did not win a seat, will be foreign minister. The two men, together with Datuk Seri Saifuddin and Datuk Naim Mokhtar who are not MPs, will be sworn in as senators on Saturday morning.
Mr Anwar said that Finance Ministry matters would be assisted by several advisers led by former Petronas president and chief executive Mohd Hassan Marican. “I will be assisted by a strong team who are not only civil servants, but also a group of advisers who will not burden the government’s coffers,” he added.
The swearing-in of the ministers will take place at 3pm on Saturday. They are also scheduled to attend a special meeting on Monday.
“The meeting will talk about the way the Cabinet members should manage their respective ministries, on how to work together with civil servants, how to make media announcements and how to not waste government funds,” Mr Anwar said at an event on Friday in Ipoh, Perak, according to the Malay Mail.
BowerGroupAsia senior analyst Arinah Najwa said there is strong representation from Borneo, with Mr Fadillah as deputy prime minister, and GPS and GRS making up slightly over 20 per cent of the Cabinet.
“Having said that, we see women and Indians still being under-represented, with only one Indian minister and five female Cabinet ministers... It is a challenge to find the right balance in his Cabinet given how many coalitions are involved”, she noted.
“This composition could be the right mix that is enough for the Premier to be able to govern and have a collaborative Cabinet.”
Research executive Halmie Azrie Abdul Halim of the think-tank Ideas is concerned about the new Premier holding the finance portfolio. “Finance Ministry is arguably the second-most influential in the Cabinet. There could be a lack of oversight if the Prime Minister holds it. Not forgetting Mr Najib, the former prime minister, also helmed the Finance Ministry during the 1MDB saga,” he said.
Mr Anwar last week said his Cabinet appointments should not be seen as a “reward” for politicians who backed him to lead the unity government.
He also promised to reduce the size of his Cabinet compared with that of his predecessors Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Muhyiddin Yassin, who had over 30 ministers and nearly 40 deputies.