Right candidate for education minister? Analysts prefer Tok Pa than Marzuki despite history in Umno

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Prof Azmi Hassan says Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (pic) is the right person to helm the portfolio given his experience. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Prof Azmi Hassan says Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (pic) is the right person to helm the portfolio given his experience. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 4 — As attention now shifts towards potential candidates for the post of the education minister, pundits believe former Umno-man Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed is the man for the job despite his political baggage.

With his experience in the previous administration that included the role of minister of higher education, analysts were clear with their endorsement of Mustapa, over a recently suggested candidate for the role — Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Datuk Marzuki Yahya.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Prof Azmi Hassan pointed out that the vacant Cabinet post should rightfully be given to a senior member from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) since former minister Maszlee Malik was from the same party.

Azmi said Mustapa, otherwise known as Tok Pa, was the right person to helm the portfolio given his experience.

“But again hierarchy in politics is very important and Tok Pa is considered a latecomer in PH (Pakatan Harapan),” he told Malay Mail.

Senior fellow of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun concurred with Azmi and suggested that Mustapa’s moderate image had propelled him as a dark horse among the possible candidates to become the next Prime Minister.

“He fits the kind of obedient, technocratic successor criteria which Dr M favours,” Oh told Malay Mail, referring to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) political scientist Prof Jayum Jawan stressed on the importance of the vacant education minister portfolio, as it is responsible for overseeing the very foundations of nation-building.

“The next Malay to be appointed must be a person who understands the fundamentals of nation-building in a multi-ethnic society.

“He or she must be a man or woman of proven character who is fair and just, a good listener and one who has wisdom and the respect of the multi-ethnic society,” said Jayum when speaking to Malay Mail.

Suggestions that Mustapa and Marzuki, both from PPBM, were being considered for the minister of education post was recently reported by Malay Mail.

Marzuki is no stranger to controversy himself, after being embroiled in a ‘degree mill’ scandal over the authenticity of his Bachelors Degree in February last year. — Bernama pic
Marzuki is no stranger to controversy himself, after being embroiled in a ‘degree mill’ scandal over the authenticity of his Bachelors Degree in February last year. — Bernama pic

The report cited party sources who had revealed how Mustapa is a candidate for his experience and likability, while Marzuki was named believably for reasons of party hierarchy.  

This comes after Maszlee had on Thursday resigned from his position as the education minister effective January 3, making him the first from Dr Mahathir’s Cabinet to go since the 14th general election.

On the negatives of appointing Mustapa, UTM’s Azmi again warned of his late entry into PH and how his role in the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) administration could come back to haunt him.

“Also, the stigma of Tok Pa being an Umno stalwart is going to make it difficult especially with objections from DAP and PKR,” he said.

Azmi then pointed out how Marzuki as the PPBM secretary-general, by virtue of seniority within the party, has a better chance of being promoted into a full ministerial position despite conceding that Mustapa is more fit for the role. 

Marzuki is no stranger to controversy himself, after being embroiled in a “degree mill” scandal over the authenticity of his Bachelors Degree in February last year.

Disputes were raised over where the deputy minister obtained his certificates from, with Marzuki later coming clean and admitting that he did not attend the University of Cambridge as previously claimed, but instead from one United States-based Cambridge International University — an institution whose reputation has been questioned.

“I think Marzuki too will be facing objections due to controversy a.k.a his academic qualification, and to be honest, his current deputy minister tenure is nothing to shout about,” quipped Azmi.

Azmi pointed out how the next minister should be someone with solid experience politically and administratively, and a leader who understands the sensitivity of the portfolio and how its policies will affect everyone.

UPM’s Jayum, however, pointed out that a leader’s character in handling such an important portfolio was the overarching priority that should be looked at.

“Individual personality is not important. It is the characters of the individual that is important especially for a multi-ethnic country,” he said.

Oh then stood by his option when asked who would be the better candidate between the two, again citing Mustapa’s experience as the defining factor.

“Education is perhaps the most important cabinet portfolio in Malaysia, so an experienced hand such as Tok Pa helming the ministry is perhaps more conducive to restoring public confidence in the performance of the ministry,” he said.

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