ALOR SETAR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said opposition leaders would not be appointed to his new Cabinet and that he would announce its members later this week, after the King consents to his proposed line-up.
"I have to present (the list) to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong first. Only after the King has consented to it then I'll make the announcement," Datuk Seri Ismail told reporters in Yan, Kedah, on Monday (Aug 23).
"They (opposition leaders) have no participation in the Cabinet. There is no unity government with the opposition," he added.
Mr Ismail's comments came after the Palace said last Wednesday that Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah had "expressed the view that MPs should unite to create unity between all political parties", in what has been interpreted by some to indicate a call for a bipartisan government.
In Mr Ismail's maiden speech on Sunday, a day after he was sworn in as Prime Minister by the King, the newly appointed premier emphasised cooperation across the political divide and invited opposition leaders to join in the effort to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Monday, he said the opposition had shown encouraging response to his suggestion to be part of the country's National Recovery Council and special committee for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
"The opposition has given me good feedback and I will meet them soon," he said, adding that discussions would centre on how everyone could make his contribution.
But he said the new Federal Government would not be a unity government.
The premier called on the public not to believe in a purported Cabinet list that had gone viral, saying it was fake.
Asked who would be his deputy, he said he would consider all parties involved.
Malaysiakini reported on Tuesday that Gombak MP Azmin Ali was poised to become the next deputy prime minister, citing sources in Bersatu and Umno.
A Bersatu source aligned to Mr Azmin said there was a "strong likelihood" that the Gombak MP was going to become Mr Ismail's deputy.
Three Umno sources, who are on the supreme council, including two who are MPs, also claimed Mr Azmin is set to clinch the post.
Two of the sources, who are in opposite Umno factions, told Malaysiakini, however, that this was being planned in order to avoid defections.
Both sources claimed that Mr Azmin had threatened to withdraw support from Mr Ismail's fragile government if he was not given the post.
Mr Ismail, who has the support of 114 lawmakers, took over from Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin who resigned as prime minister following a loss of parliamentary majority.
His appointment also marked his party's return to power just three years after it lost federal power for the first time since the country's independence.
Political analysts said it is vital for Mr Ismail to have his Cabinet up and running to handle the Covid-19 pandemic and to address economic issues. They also said it was crucial for Mr Ismail to put his stamp on it.
The next three months, they added, would be a critical period as the nation scrutinises his actions to assess if he will live up to his promises.
Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of the UKM Institute of Ethnic Studies said Mr Ismail was expected to form a Cabinet that would be able to work more and talk less.
"He is not known as the typical Umno firebrand politician and is not from the prestigious and elite schools which many of the top leaders of Umno were from.
"He can, however, be vocal and firm when he wants to, as we saw when he led the Barisan Nasional MPs in defiance of the coalition chair and his own party president to retain support for former prime minister Muhyiddin.
"He was also a student leader at Universiti Malaya. All these characteristics of his will be applied when he chooses the Cabinet ministers to ensure it is a Cabinet he can work with.
"Being the first non-Umno president to hold the premiership, it would not be a surprise if Mr Ismail turns to people like Umno deputy president Mohamad Hassan and appoint him to the Cabinet as a senator to ensure he had the support and right ideas."
Prof Shamsul agreed such move may work to appease the Umno faction that Mr Ismail might have crossed words with in his rise to be the Prime Minister.
"It is most likely that he will first fill up some senior ministerial posts before he announces the full Cabinet line-up," he said.
Dr Mazlan Ali from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said the new Cabinet must be one that was seen to be working for the people.
"It has to be a lean government which does not have too many portfolios and is not burdened with too many positions such as two deputy ministers for one ministerial portfolio," he said.
"These three months will be a very critical 'do or die' phase for the Prime Minister. He will have to put his stamp on his Cabinet with some new faces so that it is not dismissed as Perikatan 2.0."