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Zahid as DPM a problem for Anwar's 'reformist' Cabinet, say analysts

Publish date: Wed, 07 Dec 2022, 09:16 AM

The appointment of Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as deputy prime minister despite no less than 47 charges pending in court may mark a flashpoint in Anwar Ibrahim's government and tarnish his reputation as a reformist, analysts say. 

Mujibu Abd Muis of Universiti Teknologi Mara said Anwar would now face questions on whether he could defend the move to appoint Zahid to the second highest position in his new Cabinet. 

"This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer given the perception that Anwar's Cabinet would completely reject those involved in court cases," he added. 

He said questions would also be raised about prominent figures in Pakatan Harapan (PH) such as DAP's Lim Guan Eng and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman of Muda, who also face court cases but were not given government positions.

"This, I think, will be the biggest question." 

Anwar announced his Cabinet line-up on Dec 2, eight days after being appointed as the 10th prime minister on Nov 24.

Anis Anwar Suhaimi, the chief researcher at 02 Research Malaysia, said Zahid's inclusion demonstrated his "instrumental interest" in ensuring the success of the PH-Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance, to the point where Anwar was faced with criticism for appointing an individual still embroiled in a court case to the Cabinet. 

"The appointment of candidates who lost the election also invites the public perception that the practice of handing out titles in the form of senators and ministers still continues," he added. 

Nonetheless, Anis said that the Cabinet make-up had strategic political considerations for each of the coalition parties in Anwar's government. 

PKR, he said, held three important portfolios on national resources in terms of finance and economy, communications as well as domestic security. 

However, he said Anwar's decision to hold the finance portfolio was against the stand to avoid conflict of interest and the abuse of power. 

DAP meanwhile appeared to have been given a significant role in urban areas including the developer and community credit groups as well as civil society through the local government development ministry, as well as the youth through the youth and sports ministry. 

Anis said these appointments were expected to further strengthen DAP in urban areas, especially given the inclusion of Nga Kor Ming, who said in the run-up to the polls that Malaysia could end up like Afghanistan with a Taliban government under PAS' administration.

Umno meanwhile had been given tactical portfolios such as defence, law and higher education, he added. 

"These portfolios are seen as an important way of balancing out Umno's influence which is currently on the decline in rural areas," he said, citing the shift in Malay vote towards Perikatan Nasional.

In terms of weaknesses, Mujibu said the new Cabinet lacked representatives from the Indian community, with Human Resources Minister V Sivakumar the sole Indian MP in government. 

"But it's good that five women have been given senior positions such as health and education minister," he added, referring to Dr Zaliha Mustafa and Fadhlina Sidek, both of PKR.

"These are new faces, and we want to see how well they perform in addition to giving credit to the role of women and expanding their capacity as decision makers." 

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