“Can’t sideline BN, can’t sideline DAP”: Anwar’s next challenge, his Cabinet

BARELY days after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was appointed prime minister amid intense political horse-trading and a race against the clock to see who has the numbers, Anwar now faces another challenge: choosing his Cabinet line-up.

Theoretically, a Cabinet should comprise the cream of the crop in the Dewan Rakyat, and not be contingent on party quotas or internal politics, which would otherwise see “yes-men” being appointed despite lacking the necessary credentials or experiences.

However, the reality in Malaysia is that the heads of the political parties that form a government almost automatically assume the highest-ranked federal ministerial posts, while senior party leaders become ministers, deputy ministers, special envoys and so on.

In any case, deciding on a Cabinet should be a fairly straightforward process for any Malaysian PM. Not for Anwar though.

Due to the results of last Saturday’s (Nov 19) polls in which no party won a simple majority, he now leads a unity government, working side-by-side with once-political rivals.

The talk of the town is that Anwar’s unity government – the first in Malaysian history – will see the appointment of deputy prime ministers (DPMs) from Barisan Nasional (BN) and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), two coalitions that have long been against Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, largely due to the presence of the Chinese-majority DAP.

It is truly a bizarre scene for anyone vested in Malaysian politics and closely watching post-15th General Election (GE15) developments; PH now has no choice but to toe the line with BN (which it has always campaigned against) so its joint administration will not collapse. 

Anwar, in particular, has the unfortunate task of entertaining BN’s fancies and giving them their pick of Cabinet posts, and the DAP, on the other hand, has no choice but to stand back and allow this to proceed – even if it means not getting major Cabinet posts themselves despite their party’s number of MPs.

Anwar Ibrahim (left) and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (Photo credit: The News Straits Times)

Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan said the silver lining about Anwar’s unfortunate predicament is that the PH chief’s unity government bloc – which Anwar claims has secured a two-thirds majority in Parliament – is a large one. 

“He has a lot (of MPs) to choose (from) so (he won’t have to) rock the boat,” he told FocusM. “Because if (even) one coalition pulls out, then that’s the end of Anwar’s government.”

Azmi added that it’s an almost near certainty that Anwar’s DPMs will come from BN and the Borneo bloc; either GPS or the smaller Gabungan Rakyat Sarawak (GRS).

“Zahid won’t be DPM, don’t worry”

However, those concerned about BN chairman-cum-UMNO president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is on trial for alleged corruption, becoming DPM can take a breather for now as the chances of this happening are “very low” and “negligible”, according to Azmi.

“If the DPM comes from BN, in all likelihood it will be Tok Mat,” he said, referring to Zahid’s deputy in both BN and UMNO, Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan.

Azmi Hassan (Photo credit: Astro Awani)

As to who among BN’s 30 MPs will be appointed or reappointed to Cabinet, Azmi said it was most probable that the “pro-Zahid” faction within UMNO has a better chance of being picked compared to those seen as “anti-Zahid”, such as former prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

“The pro-Zahid MPs (are the reason) why the en bloc decision was made by BN to support PH (and Anwar’s unity government),” Azmi explained.

He added that BN will most likely get major portfolios like education, human resources and the all-powerful finance since the coalition could always threaten to exit the unity government if they do not get their way. 

Lest his unity government be thwarted from within too, Anwar would also be wise to ensure the DAP gets major roles in Cabinet as well, said Azmi.

According to news reports and online speculation, the DAP will not hold major roles in Cabinet in a “selfless” effort to avoid creating any rifts between Anwar, BN and GPS – despite securing the most number of seats within PH, and way more than BN as a whole – but only time will tell if the DAP will be content with being sidelined for the long haul.

Azmi, who speculated that the DAP would most likely give up any dream they have of helming the finance portfolio once more, cautioned that the party is a “major force” to reckon with, as is BN right now by “calling the shots” within Anwar’s unity government.

“Since more than 90% of the Chinese voters voted for the DAP, Anwar needs to satisfy this group of voters by giving the DAP other (major) portfolios besides finance,” he said. – Nov 27, 2022

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