Sunday, September 26, 2021

Ismail’s Cabinet: Winners and losers

While parties such as Bersatu may have been given a new lease of life, others like Umno's court cluster must now continue their court battle without any political interference.

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The announcement of the new Cabinet line-up by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has triggered condemnation from Pakatan Harapan (PH) with an air of silent disappointment descending on the “semi-opposition” camp led by Umno’s Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

MalaysiaNow takes a look at the winners and losers in the 31 ministerial appointments announced today.

Winner: Perikatan Nasional

If there is one thing about the Cabinet line-up that everyone can agree on, it is the fact that Perikatan Nasional (PN) is still in power.

The format of the Cabinet as drawn up by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, with its hierarchy of senior ministers leading the four clusters, has been maintained. It is perhaps Ismail’s way of saying that his government’s brand is PN, the same brand for which the pro-Najib Razak camp in Umno revoked its support.

Loser: Pro-Najib camp

The pro-Najib camp appears to be among the biggest losers. With the exception of Noh Omar and perhaps Noraini Ahmad, both of whom joined the former leader in revoking support for Muhyiddin, none of its other more vociferous leaders were selected as ministers.

The open call by Najib’s loyalists for the finance portfolio to be held by Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, for example, fell on deaf ears. Similarly, hopes were dashed for Azalina Othman Said to be made the law minister despite giving up her deputy speaker’s post, or for Shamsul Anuar Nasarah, the first to quit Muhyiddin’s Cabinet, to be restored as a minister.

Winner: Anti-Najib camp

To rub salt into the wound, some of Najib’s most vocal critics in Umno and Barisan Nasional such as Khairy Jamaluddin, Hishammuddin Hussein, Reezal Merican Naina Merican, M Saravanan, Shahidan Kassim and Annuar Musa were either maintained or promoted to head more high-profile ministries.

Winner: Bersatu

With one-third of the ministers coming from Bersatu, the Malay party has been given a new lease of life amid predictions of its doom in the aftermath of the resignation of its president as prime minister.

Bersatu, whose men fill two of the four senior minister posts, also retained critical portfolios such as education, home affairs and foreign affairs as well as two critical positions in efforts to jumpstart the economy, the international trade and industry ministry led by Mohamed Azmin Ali and the economic portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Department held by Mustapa Mohamed.

The party, originally made up of leaders who broke away from Najib at the peak of the 1MDB scandal, may now be on stronger footing to challenge Umno in the scramble for the crucial Malay vote bank.

Loser: Anti-Azmin camp

The anti-Azmin camp is largely made up of loyalists to Anwar Ibrahim in PKR, who recently went through yet another short-lived stage of euphoria in the period between Muhyiddin’s resignation and Ismail’s appointment.

Many had hoped it would be the “ini kalilah” (this is it) moment, to use the famous general election tagline, for their president to become the prime minister. As the dust settled following Ismail’s appointment, the euphoria quickly turned into noisy social media calls on Ismail to deny Azmin any role in his government.

A rare invitation to Anwar and PH leaders to a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday was also interpreted as a signal that Azmin’s political career was over, with many PKR supporters even claiming that a deal had been reached with Ismail that would see Azmin relegated to the political wilderness, in exchange for PH’s support for the new prime minister.

Winner: Muhyiddin Yassin

Muhyiddin may be down, but he is not out, and judging by the return of his men (and women) to the Cabinet, the former prime minister could well spring back to power – but only on the condition that these ministers prove themselves efficient and capable on the job from now until the 15th general election.

Loser: Umno’s court cluster

The composition of the Cabinet and the lingering influence of Muhyiddin in the present government mean that the court cluster group of MPs, about six of them led by Najib and Zahid, will have no choice but to continue their court battle without any political interference. Muhyiddin had said it was his refusal to entertain attempts by a group of “kleptocrats” to escape criminal charges that led to the rebellion which forced him to resign. MalaysiaNow previously detailed such an attempt by Zahid in an exclusive report.

Winner: GPS

Although the Sarawak coalition has largely attempted to portray itself as a mere observer of “peninsular” political fighting, it also strongly resisted successive attempts to overthrow Muhyiddin, up until the very end of his government. GPS feels grateful to the former prime minister as it benefited politically under Muhyiddin’s leadership, and would not want to be seen to be part of a new Cabinet dominated by the former prime minister’s enemies.

After all, under him, GPS unlocked billions of ringgit in revenue that was denied to Sarawak for decades. With six Sarawakians heading key federal ministries including one retained as a senior minister, the coalition can also claim credit for managing to wrest back one of Sarawak’s rights under the federation, all because GPS picked the “right friends” in Putrajaya.

Loser: Partisan activists

Some of the more prominent civil society activists may have lost their image of being non-partisan in urging for reforms when they openly campaigned for certain politicians to be appointed as ministers. They include Ambiga Sreenevasan, who once steered the Bersih 2.0 coalition as a successful civil society movement, obtaining the support of Malaysians from all parties including PAS. But Ambiga has made no secret of her political affiliation in the months leading to Muhyiddin’s downfall, from repeatedly calling for Amanah’s Dzulkefly Ahmad to be made the health minister to attacking PAS leaders with controversial suggestions. She summed up her loss well in a Twitter post: “Cabinet: Expected nothing. Got nothing. Moral of story: expect nothing.”

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