PUTRAJAYA (AP) – New Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin unveiled his Cabinet yesterday, saying he will have no deputy prime minister and instead appointing four senior ministers to keep factions happy in his Malay-majority government.
Muhyiddin also named a banker as finance minister and a mufti as religious affairs minister in an unprecedented step, and appeared to deliver on promises of a graft-free Cabinet as he sought to shore up public support for his leadership.
Muhyiddin took office a week ago after his party’s defection and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation sparked the collapse of the former reformist ruling alliance.
His rule has been questioned by Mahathir and his allies, who have called for a parliamentary vote to test Muhyiddin’s claim of majority support.
Muhyiddin said Monday the appointment of four senior ministers will create a Cabinet that is more efficient and focussed. They will coordinate issues related to the economy, security, infrastructure development and education.
“I want to form a Cabinet that can provide the best service to the people, a Cabinet that delivers. The senior ministers will help me in my job as prime minister including chairing Cabinet meetings in my absence,” he said in a televised announcement. “With these senior ministers, there is no need for a deputy prime minister to be appointed for now.”
Muhyiddin left out senior allies who have been charged with corruption. That includes key leaders of the United Malays National Organisation, the party of disgraced ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak that was ousted by Mahathir’s alliance in 2018 polls. The conservative leader of a fundamentalist Islamic party was also not given a post.
In a surprise move, Muhyiddin named Zafrul Abdul Aziz, the head of Malaysia’s second largest bank, as finance minister – the first time a technocrat has been appointed to a crucial job in the Cabinet.
In an expansion of the Cabinet, he also created new ministries for national unity, environment, higher education and for Sabah and Sarawak affairs – two resource-rich but poor states on Borneo island.
UMNO and Muhyiddin’s Bersatu party are the biggest winners with the most number of ministers.
UMNO’s Hishammuddin Hussein Onn, who was once transport minister before the party was ousted, is now Malaysia’s foreign minister.
The ministerial posts are mostly held by ethnic Malays, except for transport and human resources.
This Cabinet follows the Indonesian system of having coordinating ministers. “It will please the Malay ground,” said James Chin, professor of Asian studies at Australia’s Tasmania University.
Breaking with the tradition of having a deputy is also a smart move and shows Muhyiddin “is trying something new to show he has new ideas”, he said.
Chin said the return to the Cabinet of a number of UMNO leaders who were formerly ministers before the party was ousted in 2018 polls could mean “business as usual”.