December 1, 2022
KUALA LUMPUR – Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is likely to delay the unveiling of Malaysia’s new Cabinet to next week, as he tries to square conflicting demands both within and outside his unity government of strange bedfellows.
The Straits Times has learnt that no swearing-in ceremony has been pencilled in the King’s schedule, with reports saying he is set to go on an overseas trip on Saturday.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) chief Anwar’s audience with Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah on Tuesday triggered speculation that a Cabinet would be installed on Wednesday.
That did not happen, but there was heightened expectation that ministers – drawn not just from the two-thirds supermajority that the Premier enjoys but also non-politicians – would be appointed by Friday.
However, several sources in the know told The Straits Times that Datuk Seri Anwar did not submit a list of candidates to the King during the audience on Tuesday.
Up until Wednesday afternoon, the Prime Minister was meeting political leaders who have pledged support for his government after the Nov 19 General Election which threw up Malaysia’s first hung Parliament.
Mr Anwar’s press secretary said on Wednesday that the Prime Minister was only scheduled to be in his office all of Thursday, with no information available on the announcement of a Cabinet.
“The situation is now fluid because so many different factions are lobbying,” said an official from Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Sources said the King had wanted to swear in the new Cabinet before flying off on Saturday, but Mr Anwar had asked for more time.
The proposed window is now for the later part of next week before the King goes abroad again, this time for the closing stages of the football World Cup in Qatar. The Gulf nation has strong ties with Malaysia.
This would mean Mr Anwar would have governed alone for a fortnight, as he wrestles with several conundrums – not least demands for Umno president Zahid Hamidi to be made his deputy despite facing dozens of graft charges.
PH has long campaigned on a platform of integrity and cleaning up a government many believe is riddled by corruption.
Handing Zahid a senior role in government would court controversy not just among the wider public and supporters still sceptical of partnering the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN), but also within Mr Anwar’s party.
Several PKR MPs, including vice-president Nik Nazmi Ahmad, have expressed the need for the Cabinet to be “whiter than white”.
But it is a gamble that would go a long way towards ensuring BN’s crucial backing for the Premier for the rest of the term.
Umno will have to hold leadership polls by May, and the deputy premiership would help Zahid – who has faced intense backlash internally over his years-long push towards allying with PH – see off any challengers.
However, it is learnt that Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), another important partner in the unity government which is likely to secure another deputy prime minister position, would prefer Umno No. 2 Mohamad Hasan to be installed instead of Zahid.
GPS secretary-general Alexander Nanta Linggi said while it was the Prime Minister’s prerogative to choose his Cabinet, having a “clean” line-up would be preferred.
A leadership change in Umno could see its support for Mr Anwar wavering, with opposition pact Perikatan Nasional waiting in the wings to capitalise on any cracks in the government.
Even though the unity government will still hold a simple majority in the 222-strong Parliament without BN’s 30 MPs, it would be an administration backed by less than one in five voters from the Malay Muslim majority.
There has also been lobbying from the private sector to be part of what Mr Anwar has insisted will be a slimmed-down Cabinet from the 32 ministers and 38 deputies in the past 30 months, giving him even less room to appease those who have helped him end a 24-year battle to take on the top job in the country.
Bloomberg floated the names of top corporate captains such as former CIMB chief Nazir Razak as well as sovereign wealth fund Khazanah’s former boss Azman Mokhtar to head the Treasury.
But it is likely that Mr Anwar will maximise the political capital of the coveted position of finance minister to reward close allies or win over sceptical factions, or even appoint himself to entrench his hold on an administration made up of disparate ideologies.