Naming of ‘senior ministers’ instead of DPM a wise move, pundits say of Muhyiddin’s Cabinet

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin during the announcement of the new Cabinet ministers at Perdana Putra in Putrajaya, March 9, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin during the announcement of the new Cabinet ministers at Perdana Putra in Putrajaya, March 9, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 10 — Several political observers have lauded Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s decision to name four senior ministers instead of a deputy, saying it is a wise move to safeguard against political rifts.

The political observers polled by Malay Mail said the quartet may also go some way to satisfy all of the parties that have supported the Perikatan Nasional pact, and is provided for by the Federal Constitution.

“We know the deputy prime minister post is a critical position. Instead of risking it, the prime minister made a wise decision by appointing four senior ministers.

“These senior ministers also represent the current position of Perikatan Nasional (PN) in terms of its component parties,” Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Azmi Hassan told Malay Mail.

Azmi also said Muhyiddin made the right choice to appoint senior ministers with experience to critical portfolios such as economic affairs and defence, held by Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed and Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob, respectively.

“For example, by having a senior minister in the economic sector, the prime minister understand what Malaysia is currently facing especially on the impact the coronavirus brought to the country’s economy,” he said, referring to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under Article 43 of the Federal Constitution, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall appoint a Cabinet of ministers to advise him in the exercise of his functions, including first appointing a Prime Minister.

This includes the appointment of deputy ministers under Article 43(a) of the Federal Constitution, where the King may also on the advice of the prime minister appoints deputy ministers from among the members of either House of Parliament.

This means that, the prime minister has the discretion to appoint a deputy prime minister or otherwise.

Agreeing with this, Ahmad Atory Hussain, a former senior lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), claimed that the PN Cabinet line-up is “better” in some way compared to the previous Pakatan Harapan administration, despite its dismal representation of minorities.

“The Cabinet line-up is better than expected, even better than PH’s line-up. The only thing that lacks is the non-Malays’ representatives.

“But this is somewhat to do with the nature of our political system, it is concentrated more on party performance,” he said.

Commenting on the absence of a deputy prime minister post, Ahmad said that it is better to not appoint one as all party leaders are aspiring and pursuing the post.

Prior to the Cabinet line-up announcement, speculations were rife that Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi or Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, and former PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali were gunning for the post.

“It is meant for avoiding further squabbles among the politicians. The justification is that there is no clause of deputy prime minister whatsoever being mentioned in the Constitution,” he said.

Similarly, USM’s Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said the decision was done to avoid controversy.  

“Because to appoint a deputy prime minister, it has to be one of the leaders from one of the major parties [within the coalition], all of whom are dogged with controversies, even Hadi,” he said, referring to PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.  

“[Muhyiddin is] trying is a new formula, which is untested but constitutional — the position of a deputy prime minister is not necessary.

“Even in the United Kingdom, sometimes they have [a deputy prime minister], and sometimes they don’t have one. It depends on the convenience of the prime minister,” he said.  

He also viewed this as Muhyiddin playing safe and trying to avoid further controversy.

At the same time, Ahmad Fauzi said this move is Muhyiddin’s way of showing that he is being fair to all the leaders.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but all the leaders of the major Malay parties have been relieved of any Cabinet post, right?” he added.  

As for independent analyst Hoo Kee Ping, he viewed the Cabinet as clean and one that is filled with technocrats and efficiency-based.

“This is important as Malaysia is facing a tough economic climate made worse due to the Covid-19 outbreak,” he said.

He cited Muhyiddin’s move to appoint former CIMB Group chief executive Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz as the finance minister, deeming it as a right move.  

“Mind you, there has never been a banker, a proper certified banker that has helmed the finance minister portfolio.

“It’s hard to see who else best to take over the post at the moment and clearly it was the right move,” he added.  

He also noted that MPs like Mustapa, who has proven to be an effective minister of International Trade and Industry back then, is now back in the Cabinet as the Economic Affairs minister under the Prime Minister’s Department.

He added that Muhyiddin’s move to elect senior ministers is also positive as he can count on four ministers instead of just one deputy prime minister to aid him in governmental affairs.

“It was also a masterstroke by Muhyiddin to form a new portfolio to look after East Malaysian affairs to ensure that they are given the appropriate attention.

“[Datuk Seri Maximus Johnity Ongkili] who is chosen for the post is a very senior politician and well respected in East Malaysia.

“This has never been done before even after the formation of Malaysia in 1963,” said Hoo.

However, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun said the current Cabinet line-up will not achieve anything of note, whether or not there is a deputy prime minister in place.

“There are too many different factions gunning for that position. By having four senior ministers Muhyiddin will be able to diffuse their ambition by not having an obvious successor like previous administrations and hopefully avoiding some of those calls for him to resign.

“[But] this is not going to be a Cabinet with a lot of accomplishments — with a DPM or no DPM it does not make much of a difference. So don’t dwell on that,” said Oh.

When asked if the current Cabinet ministers will be able to create a positive impact on the country’s economy, Oh also dismissed possibilities of such.

 ”No, I don’t think this government with all these old and tired faces in charge is going to really have any spectacular direction economically for the country,” he said.

He particularly pointed to the appointment of Tengku Zafrul, drawing comparisons to what was done previously by former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who appointed Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar as minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of economic affairs.

“This appointment of Tengku Zafrul, it is basically a copycat of Najib appointing Wahid Omar. A person like Tengku Zafrul will not survive long in this sort of extremely cutthroat political environment,” said Oh.  

Ahmad Fauzi on the other hand, although he welcomed the appointment of Tengku Zafrul, he said the latter’s achievement in the corporate world may not necessarily translate similarly in Putrajaya.

“The appointment of Tengku Zafrul is something to be welcomed. But a new talent [like him], if they succeeded in corporate world, it doesn’t mean they can do wonders. It is good to strengthen the new minister with good and experienced deputies,” he said.

Yesterday, Muhyiddin announced a new Cabinet line-up and expressed hope that those appointed into his Cabinet would be able to deliver the best and most efficient level of service to the people.

Muhyiddin said those appointed into ministerial positions were chosen to realise his vision of forming a Cabinet that is competent, people-centric, transparent and with integrity, focused on delivering effective services, while maintaining a solid structure.

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