Analysts: Dr M’s Cabinet ‘refreshing’ mix of experience and idealism

Merdeka Center's Ibrahim Suffian said the Cabinet line-up brings across the message that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is 'serious about structural reforms'. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali
Merdeka Center's Ibrahim Suffian said the Cabinet line-up brings across the message that Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is 'serious about structural reforms'. — Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 — The Cabinet line-up unveiled by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday is a refreshing mix of experience and idealism with new faces brought in, analysts have said.

Ibrahim Suffian, programme director of independent pollster Merdeka Center, said the list looks like a “mix of people with fresh ideas and those with some experience”.

He noted the choice of Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali to be the economic affairs minister, saying that the PKR deputy president has experience as Selangor Mentri Besar and had proven his mettle to run a state.

“The other new ones like Maszlee may not have had experience in government but they do have the qualifications,” he told Malay Mail when contacted today, referring to academic Maszlee Malik from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), who will be education minister.

“In a way, they will probably fit well as a team led by Dr Mahathir. The Cabinet looks like a team that will implement the ideas and vision of Dr Mahathir,” he added.

Ibrahim said the choice of Maszlee as minister is “interesting because he’s a vocal proponent for academic freedom, and moderation in Islamic discourse”.

“Given the emerging challenges the country faces, he seems to bring fresh perspective to government,” he said.

Ibrahim added that the Cabinet line-up brings across the message that Dr Mahathir is “serious about structural reforms”, and he hoped the civil service will respond with the same enthusiasm and open minds shown by the public on Polling Day.

Not just pie-sharing

Oh Ei Sun, principal adviser of the Pacific Research Centre, noted that it was interesting that PKR was only assigned three ministerial posts despite winning the largest number of federal seats, while PPBM and Parti Amanah Negara with smaller hauls were also given three minister posts each.  

“So that indicates that Dr M as he vowed was appointing not only along party lines but also according to what he perceived as their merits,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

DAP was assigned four ministerial posts, while PPBM and PKR also hold the posts of prime minister and deputy prime minister via party chairman Dr Mahathir and party president Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail respectively.

Oh said the Cabinet line-up featured many seasoned politicians who will be mainly “newbies in running government”, adding: “But overall it’s a very refreshing line-up away from the old tired faces of previous regimes.”

He also hoped DAP deputy chairman Gobind Singh Deo — a human rights lawyer himself, who has been appointed as communications and multimedia minister — would scrap all those free speech-restricting laws.

Time will tell, other experience counts

Praba Ganesan, chief executive of democracy outreach organisation KUASA, said he welcomed the move by the prime minister to pass on the Education Ministry to his Pakatan Harapan (PH) colleague instead of holding both posts.

“It appears they were selected primarily on their party seniority and covering demographic bases, which was expected,” he told Malay Mail when commenting on the Cabinet line-up.

Noting the general inexperience of the current collection of PH MPs available, Praba said this was the direct result of the former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional’s alleged disallowing of those in the Opposition to have “meaningful roles and opportunities to grow in Parliament or state assemblies”.

In the multiracial Cabinet line-up, most of the nominees except for Maszlee held key party posts such as PPBM’s deputy president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, PPBM’s women wing chief Rina Harun; PKR women wing chief Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin; DAP vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran, secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, national organising secretary Anthony Loke; Amanah’s president Mohamad Sabu and his deputy Salahuddin Ayub, and Amanah strategy director Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Praba said a way to assess those appointed to the Cabinet is perhaps their relative experience such as advocacy in issues related to their portfolio.

“Dzulkefly writes, and participates in discourse and ran the PAS think-tank. So a critic is now on the other side, which is better than a person with no opinion and prior engagement in the issues,” he said of the incoming health minister who was previously from PAS.

As for Zuraida, Praba said she had completed two terms as Ampang MP and so would have dealt with the local authority there but had not held a state government position, adding that it will be quite demanding for her as the housing and local government minister “to be in charge of all towns across the country, and being the point person for any progress” in reintroducing local government elections.

Praba said Maszlee was formerly working in university and the academia, saying however that the Education Ministry which he will be helming “requires courage and ability to navigate the huge bureaucracy” and that “many ministers have been stonewalled in the past”.

“But the summary is in a process to ensure all parties get equal representation and cover their internal bases, it was always going to be compromises rather than focus on capacity only. Time will tell if they take the opportunity, or drown in being water carriers for the PM’s vision,” he said.

What about Sabah and Sarawak?

Praba pointed out the absence of representatives from Sabah and Sarawak in the Cabinet line-up.

“There are almost thirty seats from PKR, DAP and Warisan over there and them missing in the list is a disappointment. It looks like a one half Cabinet for Malaysia,” he said.

Ibrahim suggested: “There are still posts that haven’t been announced, perhaps the Borneo guys will get represented in the list to come.”

When asked about the lack of Sabah and Sarawak appointees to the Cabinet, Oh said: “I am sure they will be announced in the third wave.”

The list featured 15 positions, including the prime minister and deputy prime minister posts.

Dr Mahathir had previously said the Cabinet would be lean and capped at a maximum of 30 ministers, with representatives from Sabah and Sarawak expected if there is space in the targeted 25 minister posts.