By Ranjit Singh
THE controversial appointment of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister has led to many questions about his prospective Cabinet.
The new loose coalition, Perikatan Nasional (PN) that is headed by him, consists of Umno, PAS, a splinter group of Bersatu and the 11 who left PKR who count Datuk Seri Azmin Ali as their de facto leader. Although Sarawak’s ruling government, GPS, has not joined the coalition, it has given its tacit approval to be part of the coalition.
Azmin and PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang are almost assured of important positions in the proposed Cabinet by virtue of them being the key movers of PN.
Azmin who orchestrated the infamous “Sheraton Move” is also seen as a front-runner for an important post in the Cabinet. Although deemed a non-performer by some during his tenure as Minister of Economic Affairs in the PH government, his greatest claim to accomplishment would be coming up with the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, a programme that Muhyiddin has vowed to carry on.
The rumour mill was abuzz with news that Azmin would be given the powerful finance ministry portfolio. This position has the potential to make or break Muhyiddin’s government as the country faces huge economic challenges both on the domestic and external fronts.
A dark horse who has emerged as a potential candidate for the position of deputy prime minister is Umno vice-president and Sembrong MP Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein. Hishammuddin, who was defence minister in the BN government before the May 2018 election, has kept a low profile after BN was defeated in GE14.
He is seen sometimes as an ultra-Malay leader especially after his antics of wielding a keris during an Umno meeting a few years ago. He has managed to keep a somewhat clean image although the previous PH government had tried to associate him with some shady land deals during his tenure as defence minister. He is seen as prime minister material down the road as he has the pedigree – his late father Tun Hussein Onn was Malaysia’s third prime minister.
There is talk of the likelihood of the Cabinet having two deputy prime ministers. One of the names suggested was GPS chief Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg. Other ministerial candidates from Sarawak could include Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, a former minister in the prime minister’s department.
If Abang Johari is appointed as DPM, he would have to relinquish his Sarawak CM’s post. This would definitely be a big win for the East Malaysians as they had been fighting for greater representation in the federal corridors of power for a long time.
Hadi Awang, a seasoned politician and PAS president, should be given the minister in Prime Minister’s Department position to oversee Islamic affairs in the country, some say. However, he has come across as being “extreme” in his Islamic stance and should temper some of his views to accommodate the plural society in the country. There is also talk that Hadi could be appointed as a second deputy prime minister together with Hishamuddin.
Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, who had been a long-time minister of international trade and industry (MITI) in the BN government, could return to helm the ministry. Mustapa is held in high regard by those who have worked with him.
The education portfolio is another important position for which Muhyiddin has to carefully select a candidate who can craft meaningful policies for the betterment of the country’s education system. The previous minister under the PH government, Dr Mazlee Malik, had failed miserably and had to be dropped, with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad taking over the portfolio.
A name which has been bandied about to helm the education ministry under the new government is Datuk Noraini Ahmad, the Wanita Umno chief and MP for Parit Sulong. She also heads the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
As Umno is the largest component of the PN with 39 seats, there is a likelihood that many of its former ministers would be making a comeback.
Khairy Jamaluddin, the former minister of youth and sports under the BN government, would probably be making a comeback to the government. It is said he would be chosen to head the ministry of foreign affairs. Datuk Azalina Othman, who was the de facto law minister in the BN government could be a potential law minister in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet.
Umno secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar Musa could be given a ministerial post, most likely the rural development portfolio.
Muhyiddin, in his maiden speech as PM televised live throughout the country on March 2, emphasised that he would be appointing capable technocrats to his Cabinet. In the BN government, Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Tan Sri Wahid Omar and Datuk Paul Low were among technocrats appointed to man important functions in the government. Talk is rife that Khazanah Nasional Bhd CEO Datuk Shahril Ridza Ridzuan could helm an important function in Muhyiddin’s Cabinet, probably as Finance Minister 2.
Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan, PAS secretary-general, is said to be moving to the Federal Territory ministry as its minister.
MCA and MIC have also given their support to PN. They would most probably be given their traditional seats in the Cabinet which are transport and labour. The probable ministers from MCA and MIC would be party president Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong and Datuk M Saravanan who is his party’s vice chair.
The composition of the Cabinet remains conjecture at the moment. Muhyiddin should carefully pick the members as it would have a telling effect on the direction of the government and the support of the rakyat. It could also have a huge bearing on the outcome of GE15. – March 4, 2020