Najib plays it safe

PM draws ministers from BN top ranks, with only 2 wholly new picks; Youth chief left out

By Carolyn Hong, The Straits Times

Malaysian Premier Najib Razak yesterday presented a Cabinet line-up that stuck to the time-tested formula of drawing ministers from the ranks of the Barisan Nasional top leadership.

There were only two wholly new faces, both appointed to lesser portfolios, while eight veterans from the previous government were dropped.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister. Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein was named Home Minister.

Two key economic posts were given to ministers respected for their ability and integrity. Datuk Mustapa Mohamed is Minister of International Trade and Industry, and Datuk Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah is Second Finance Minister, serving under Datuk Seri Najib, who retained his finance portfolio.

The two new faces are businessman Datuk Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin, the Premier's close ally, who will be Federal Territories Minister, and Brigadier-General (Ret) Jamil Khir Baharum, who will be Minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of Religious Affairs.

Mr Najib also drew in seven new names into a Cabinet that shrunk from 31 ministers to 28. Five of the seven had, however, previously held high government positions.

He dropped eight ministers, including those not well-regarded by the public, and kept several who were perceived as untainted.

In what is likely to be a controversial move, Mr Najib left out Mr Khairy Jamaluddin – the unpopular son-in-law of his predecessor Abdullah Badawi – who was recently elected Umno Youth chief. Mr Khairy, 33, was censured for money politics in the run-up to the party polls.

And in an apparent nod to former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who retains considerable influence in Umno, Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir was made Deputy Minister of International Trade and Industry. Tun Dr Mahathir's son had lost to Mr Khairy in the Umno Youth race.

Dr Mahathir, a fierce critic of Tun Abdullah and his son-in-law, welcomed the fact that Mr Khairy was left out of the government, saying this was 'proof that Najib wants to clean up the party'.