Malaysian PM Mahathir helms education, Anwar Ibrahim in Pakatan top leadership

PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attending a press conference at the Sheraton Petaling Jaya Hotel on May 10, 2018. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

PETALING JAYA - Malaysia's ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition officially incorporated Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim into its top leadership just a day after he was pardoned, as the new government continued to roll forward on several fronts.

However, negotiations on Cabinet posts continue to stall, with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad revealing no further names, and instead announced the core body will only be sworn in Monday, and be enlarged from an initial 10 to 13 ministers.

"We will swear them in on Monday, with the Palace's agreement," he told reporters after a PH presidential council meeting Thursday.

He had earlier said that the core Cabinet - before an enlarged team of 25 is appointed - should be finalised this week.

Dr Mahathir also said that PH's presidential council, the alliance's top decision-making body, will be enlarged with the addition of Mr Anwar. The council called the "Top Five" comprised the four chiefs of the PH parties and Dr Mahathir as the group's chairman. This will now become a "Top Six".

Mr Anwar, the Parti Keadlian Rakyat (PKR) leader has said he will not seek an immediate return to government.

"The top six may meet more often. When there is a problem they will meet to decide on matters of urgency," Dr Mahathir said.

The council agreed to hand PM Mahathir the education portfolio, while his deputy Wan Azizah Wan Ismail - who is Mr Anwar's wife - takes charge of women's affairs and welfare.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Mr Lim Guan Eng and Mr Mohamad Sabu have earlier been designated home, finance and defence ministers, respectively.

"I took over education because so many people are uneducated in this country," Dr Mahathir said with trademark sarcasm.

He added that the further eight ministers would be divided equally among the four parties that make up PH.

Dr Mahathir, in his second stint in power after stepping down in 2003, also sought to allay fears over government finances with Wednesday's announcement that the six per cent Goods and Services Tax is now zero-rated.

"We shouldn't be worried. We have reduced expenditure and done away with government wastage. Oil is now more than US$70 (S$93) so we stand to gain more profit," he said. The ousted Barisan Nasional (BN) government in its budget had only projected oil to average at US$52 this year.

Meanwhile, he also revealed that there is no agenda set for Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong's visit on Saturday. "If he raises any issues, we will discuss them. At the moment I am still trying to figure out our stand with many issues," he said.

A new anti-corruption chief has also been appointed, the premier revealed, and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) will now be headed by its former deputy leader Shukri Abdull, who was part of the agency during its investigations into the 1MDB saga, which were abruptly halted in mid-2015.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.