PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been made the acting Education Minister, with the appointment effective from Jan 3.
He will hold the position until the new Education Minister is selected, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement on Friday (Jan 10).
The decision was made during a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday (Jan 8).
Tun Dr Mahathir takes over the position from Dr Maszlee Malik, 45, who resigned from the post on Jan 2, which was also the first day of school for the new year across the nation. Dr Maszlee had said he was "advised" to do so by Dr Mahathir.
The announcement on Friday confirmed reports in the Malaysian media this week that Dr Mahathir would step in to fill the vacant portfolio in the interim.
The Star on Friday reported a source as saying that Dr Mahathir had informed the Cabinet that he had yet to make a decision on who will replace Dr Maszlee.
"He told the Cabinet that he will not be appointing anyone in a rush," the source said. "The understanding is that Dr Mahathir will meet ministry officials to find out who best will suit the ministry, " added the source.
Another source from the Education Ministry said the Prime Minister will be meeting some of its top officials before the appointment of the new minister.
"We were told that this time round, Dr Mahathir is being very meticulous in who will be the candidate for the ministry after the experience with Maszlee," the source said. "We were also told to prepare for the new minister and our work is being reviewed."
"Some appointments made by Maszlee are also being reviewed," said the source.
It is believed that Dr Mahathir met officials from the ministry last week and was briefed on the way the ministry works.
It is also believed that the Prime Minister will take into account the problems of the ministry before appointing one of his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) MPs to the post.
Dr Maszlee's resignation came 20 months after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition won power in the May 2018 General Election.
It was the first Cabinet change made by Dr Mahathir after months of speculation over a reshuffle.
Former Barisan Nasional minister Mustapa Mohamed, who is now in Bersatu and an MP for Jeli in Kelantan, has been touted by party members as one of the likely candidates to assume the role.
However, sources said Dr Mahathir will likely ruffle some feathers in the party if he picks Mr Mustapa, especially among those who are not keen for an ex-Umno member to be made a minister.
During his 20-month tenure, Dr Maszlee courted much controversy with some of his reforms to the national education system, including the decision to teach Jawi, or Arabic script, in Chinese and Tamil schools.
Dr Maszlee, however, has blamed the media for cherry-picking and sensationalising certain issues as the main reasons for his resignation.