KUALA LUMPUR - Embattled Sabah Chief Minister Hajiji Noor sought to end five days of political turmoil by reshuffling his Cabinet on Wednesday, and dropping ministers who opposed his leadership, including former deputy chief minister Bung Moktar.
Three ministers were added to the cabinet, while others changed portfolios.
Last week, Datuk Seri Bung, who is also Sabah Umno chief, withdrew his party from the 27-month-old coalition government, a move which threatened to bring down the government led by the Gabungan Rakyat Sabah (GRS) coalition.
Over the weekend, Mr Hajiji garnered the support of 44 assemblymen, including five from Umno and seven from Pakatan Harapan (PH). A majority of at least 40 seats in the 79-member state assembly is required to govern.
Datuk Seri Hajiji said the Cabinet reshuffle was necessary to boost the government.
“It is important for the state government under my leadership to function as a cohesive team who share the same aspirations built on mutual trust and respect,” he said in a statement.
“To do that, we need a strong team. Mindful of the need to form an inclusive administration, I have included assemblymen from PH in the Cabinet, in addition to representatives from Barisan-Umno and GRS,” he said.
Mr Hajiji named three deputy chief ministers – Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku’s Jeffrey Kitingan, Parti Bersatu Sabah’s Joachim Gunsalam and Barian Nasional’s (BN) Shahelmey Yahya, one of five Umno assemblymen who refused to support the plot to topple the government.
Two new ministers from PH, and one other from BN ally Umno were sworn in at Istana Seri Kinabalu on Wednesday. PH had mooted a unity government on Friday following the Umno pull-out, pledging support to Mr Hajiji.
But the power struggle may not be over despite the reshuffle.
Mr Bung said: “The appointment of the new state Cabinet involves two Sabah Umno representatives (but) they do not represent the party, and we will not give any recognition to their appointments.
“Hajiji also cannot say (they represent) Umno in his Cabinet line-up.”
Newly-minted Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Shahelmey Yahya insisted on Wednesday that he is still with Umno.
“I am still an Umno member as I have not received any news from the party leadership. I had met with party president (Zahid Hamidi) for a while (recently) but there was nothing. We only nodded (at each other) and shook hands, that’s all,” he was quoted as saying by the English daily Star.
Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs told The Straits Times: “I think it (the reshuffle) just provides a temporary respite before the next wave of political turbulence arises soon.”
Mr Hajiji was among 16 lawmakers from Sabah who quit Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin, in December 2022, following its loss in the November general election.
Mr Bung said on Jan 6 that Sabah Umno had “lost confidence in Hajiji, and he has lost his locus standi (legal right) to remain chief minister after he quit PPBM to become a member of GRS”.
He added that the understanding after the 2020 Sabah election was that BN would support Mr Hajiji as chief minister, and Mr Hajiji would, in turn, appoint BN members as ministers and heads of state-owned government-linked companies.
Mr Bung claimed that Mr Hajiji and GRS had also breached the cooperation agreement with BN by sacking Sabah Umno’s Usukan assemblyman, Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak, as chairman of state investment arm Qhazanah Sabah.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had flown into the state capital, Kota Kinabalu, on Monday night after returning from an official visit to Indonesia in a bid to end the power grab.