Will the ninth prime minister appoint a unity Cabinet or a Cabinet of professionals or a Cabinet of political actors? — Hafiz Hassan

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AUG 22 — Cabinet ministers are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the King) on the advice of the prime minister. Arguably this should be the first advice of a prime minister after his appointment by the King.

Under the scheme of our Federal Constitution, the King is a constitutional monarch who acts on ministerial advice and not on his own initiative. 

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob making his way to Istana Negara for the swearing-in ceremony in Kuala Lumpur August 21, 2021. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob making his way to Istana Negara for the swearing-in ceremony in Kuala Lumpur August 21, 2021. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

The power to appoint any minister is in effect with the prime minister. He can at any time advise the King to appoint any minister and His Majesty is bound to act on the advice of the prime minister. (see the case of Dato' Seri Anwar bin Ibrahim v Perdana Menteri Malaysia & Anor [2007] 4 MLJ 422)

But, it is a simplistic view that the appointment of ministers, including deputy prime minister, is the absolute prerogative of the prime minister and as such, no one should exert pressure on newly appointed Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob as the ninth prime minister over such appointments.

Malaysia may not be a perfect democracy but it is typical of a parliamentary democracy where the prime minister is not directly elected by the citizens but is normally nominated or appointed by the head of state – the King in Malaysia.

While the head of state may not have very much discretion in designating a prime minister since the first principle of parliamentary democracy is that the government must be chosen on the basis of parliamentary confidence, the prime minister does have the discretion in choosing Cabinet ministers to be appointed by the King.

Cabinet appointment indeed is a key part of any prime minister’s power. According to the United Kingdom's Institute for Government, Cabinet ministers are chosen for a range of reasons – as a reward, to build allies, to signal a shift in policy or, sometimes, on assessment of objective performance. (https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/government-ministers)

Appointments to the Cabinet are “usually highly political acts”, “rarely based on objective assessment of performance” and “don’t usually take into account an individual’s skills, interests or likely fit with the rest of the team.” (https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/ministers-reflect-reshuffles)

These are tough political decisions to make but are easily contrasted with decisions made in the corporate world. Michael Moore, who was Secretary of State for Scotland from 2010 to 2013 explained:

“You are never going to strip out the reality that politics plays the biggest part you will get ministers who will be regarded as under-performing but can’t be sacked. You will get others who do brilliantly but, because they don’t have political weight in the party, they can go.”

And unlike in the corporate world, appointments to the Cabinet “do not involve job interviews.” Some ministers may get to see the prime minister prior to their appointment; some have no idea their appointment is coming.

Thus, while the prime minister has the discretion, political realities are just the opposite.

Appointments to the Cabinet have been but simply a reflection of political realities -- a way to reward loyalty as well as to assert authority.

It remains to be seen whether Ismail Sabri will succumb to political realities. Or will he listen to the King’s message for politicians to create a “new political landscape”?

Will the ninth prime minister appoint a unity Cabinet or a Cabinet of professionals or a Cabinet of political actors?

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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