‘Political rewards’ in Anwar’s Cabinet appointments?

Azzman Abdul Jamal, Malaysia Now

As Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim moves ahead with his Cabinet at full capacity nearly a month after the Nov 19 election, scrutiny continues of his line-up of ministers, announced on Dec 2, and deputy ministers, revealed a week later on Dec 9.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman’s Cabinet, which he had said would be downsized, comprises 28 ministers aided by 27 deputy ministers, with portfolios distributed among PKR, Umno, DAP, Amanah, Gabungan Parti Sarawak, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah, Warisan, Upko and one non-politician.

Some of the names came as a surprise, while others expected to make a comeback were sidelined, including former health minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, former energy and environment minister Yeo Bee Yin, and former communications minister Gobind Singh Deo, all of whom had served in the previous PH government from 2018 to 2020.

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, meanwhile, was returned to the country’s second highest office as one of two deputy prime ministers despite facing a string of criminal charges in court.

He was also given the portfolio of rural and regional development.

And former finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who lost the contest in Kuala Selangor to Dzulkefly, was appointed as international trade and industry minister.

Some have also questioned Anwar’s decision to leave out MPs seen as capable, or to appoint individuals like Khairy Jamaluddin or Maszlee Malik through the bestowal of senatorships.

The appointment of first-time MPs to crucial portfolios such as health and education has also sparked concern, given the continuing menace of Covid-19 which had seen some quarters calling for a return of more experienced leaders such as Khairy and Dzulkefly.

The return of Ahmad Maslan as deputy finance minister alongside Steven Sim likewise sparked debate.

The Umno secretary-general had held the same position in government before, during the administration of former prime minister Najib Razak. He was known for his defence of the goods and services tax to replace the sales and services tax, which he had said would help bring down prices.

He was appointed as deputy international trade and industry minister after a Cabinet reshuffle in July 2015.

As a whole, Anwar’s Cabinet appears to have benefited Umno, which holds the second highest number of appointments despite its Barisan Nasional coalition winning just 30 seats in the recent general election.