The prevailing sentiment in Malaysia appears to be that the newly minted Prime Minister could have done considerably better in choosing his Cabinet.
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim quite literally waited decades — and endured a lengthy, politically motivated prison sentence — for his shot at Malaysia’s top job, so you’d think he would have done a better job in selecting his cabinet.
That seems to be the general consensus of Malaysians of many differing political stripes when assessing the just-released lineup of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Cabinet.
Across the media landscape in the wake of the announcement, there was plenty of disappointment, disbelief, and dismay.
Perhaps no Cabinet pick drew more criticism than accused kleptocrat Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is under the cloud of not one, not two, but 47 counts of corruption, money laundering, and criminal breach of trust. And Zahid didn’t get handed some low-level portfolio, he’s one of two deputy prime ministers.
That’s right, there are two, for reasons not fully understood. And one of the two men holding the second-most powerful position in Malaysia is alleged to be one of its most notorious kleptocrats, facing literally dozens of charges which could land him in prison for many years. And Anwar just appointed him deputy PM.
Zahid is also, of course, the UMNO president, so many pundits are openly speculating that this appointment was a cost of getting UMNO on board in the “unity government.” (Those same observers are also saying we shouldn’t expect this to put an end to the behind-the-scenes politicking, and that Zahid might not want to get too comfortable.)
Another move drawing widespread disapproval was Anwar’s decision to name himself finance minister. It’s genuinely unclear why this is even permitted under Malaysian law — it would be like the US President naming himself Secretary of the Treasury on his first day in office. Part of Pakatan Harapan’s pledge back in 2018 was that such shenanigans would be relegated to the dustbin of history, which is presumably why Tun Mahathir didn’t take on the Ministry of Finance portfolio when he was PM for the second time. (He did hold the portfolio the first time, effectively beginning the questionable practice.)
Even the two ‘Sheraton Move’ PMs who were installed after Mahathir resigned observed this somewhat new paradigm, and contented themselves with ‘only’ being the Prime Minister and not taking on any additional ministerial portfolios.
Anwar taking over the control of the country’s purse strings, unfortunately, not only flies in the face of what PH campaigned on four years ago, but smacks of a return to a questionable — and let’s face it: shady — style of governance most Malaysians would like to see put behind them.
Former PM Muhyiddin Yassin (who is also the Perikatan Nasional chairman) decried Anwar’s Cabinet as “the most disappointing in the nation’s history” and said that the new PM’s promises of good governance have gone out the window with this Cabinet line-up.
In a scathing rebuke, Muhyiddin said in a statement, “Someone who was ordered to enter his defence in court against 47 criminal charges of corruption, breach of trust, and money laundering has been appointed as Deputy Prime Minister.
“Anwar’s actions are akin to selling the nation’s dignity – simply because of his desire to become Prime Minister.
“This kleptocrat Cabinet, formed on the basis of fraud against the people’s mandate, does not have any legitimacy to function as the country’s highest executive body.”
Leaders from both Bersatu and Bersih also slammed Anwar’s cabinet picks, saying that the nation’s system of government was “broken if such morally and principally bankrupt individuals, as well as those involved in corruption, may be appointed into the Cabinet.”
Bersih chairman Thomas Fann rained criticism on Anwar, saying he had reverted to a “bad practice” started by Mohamad, continued by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and “grossly abused” by Najib Razak, in holding the two important posts of Prime Minister and Finance Minister.
Another pick drawing scorn was the Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI). The former official to hold this post, Rafidah Aziz, questioned Anwar’s decision to appoint Tengku Zafrul Aziz to the Cabinet.
She remarked that the new Cabinet’s credibility would take a hit because of the appointment of Tengku Zafrul as a senator solely for the purpose of making him the MITI minister, adding that there were more qualified people for the position.
“It looks like you are scraping the bottom of the barrel by appointing someone who was rejected by voters. Where is the credibility when losers are taken on board?” she said in a statement.
Rafidah, never one to hold back, also criticised the Zahid Hamidi appointment. “Why do you need to appoint someone who is currently awaiting trial for corruption?” she asked. “If he is proven guilty, then you would have to find a replacement.”
Of course, Malaysia’s ministerial post watched by most interested expats will be that of Minister of Home Affairs. The former Home Minister, Hamzah Zainudin, ostensibly led one of the most restrictive periods in recent memory against foreigners living and working in Malaysia.
Many are hoping that the newly appointed Home Minister, Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, will usher in a return to a more inclusive, respectful approach towards expats and foreign workers, though reports that he would “seek tips and advice” from his predecessor right out of the gate are certainly not encouraging.
Resident expats nevertheless join their Malaysian friends and neighbours in wishing the new Prime Minister and his Cabinet the best of luck in guiding the country during such challenging times.
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