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Q+A – What will incoming Malaysia PM Najib's cabinet look like?

By Thursday April 2nd, 2009 No Comments

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s incoming premier Najib Razak is likely to announce his cabinet lineup within a week of taking office. He is expected to be sworn in on Friday.

Here are some questions and answers on what Najib’s cabinet may look like.

WHAT ARE THE KEY PORTFOLIOS?

Najib is Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister I in the current 32-member Cabinet.

He is aided by two technocrats — former central banker Nor Mohamed Yakcop, who is Finance Minister II; and former banker Amirsham Abdul Aziz who is Economic Planning Minister.

The three, along with International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who will be Deputy Prime Minister, oversee the bulk of Malaysia’s economic management and policy planning.

Defence and Education are senior Cabinet portfolios traditionally reserved for top leaders in the main United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party. Both Najib and outgoing premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have served in the two positions.

HOW IS MALAYSIA’S CABINET FORMED?

Nearly two-thirds of the Cabinet are made up of appointees from UMNO, the largest component of the 13-party ruling National Front coalition.

The 21 UMNO Ministers are selected according to party hierarchy and are balanced to ensure representation from each state. The remaining portfolios are divided among the other parties.

WHAT ARE NAJIB’S OPTIONS?

Observers expect a major Cabinet shakeup, mostly within the UMNO section of the line-up, as Najib looks to put his stamp on the government and woo back voters who handed the ruling coalition its worst ever results in the 2008 polls.

Najib could do this by breaking with tradition by opting for more non-UMNO technocrats, or prioritising ability rather than seniority.

Six of the 21 UMNO mnisters lost in party elections last week, allowing greater room for the incoming premier to appoint fresh faces.

A government source told Reuters last Friday that the Cabinet will also be leaner. With 27 Ministries, Malaysia’s Cabinet has often been criticised for being bloated.

Some ministries, such as Education and Higher Education, are likely to be merged while a new Energy Ministry is expected to be set up.

CAN THE NEW TEAM DELIVER?

Najib has pledged major political reforms to turn around UMNO and the National Front. He has warned party members that the choice is “change or be changed” by voters in the next general election due by 2013.

He has promised to use the current global economic downturn to push Malaysia up the economic value chain and liberalise the services sector.

But there are very few identifiable reformers in the upper echelons of the party leadership.

Najib is also likely to meet stiff resistance from party grassroots entrenched in a culture of political patronage which has alienated the party from voters.

It will be especially difficult, if at all possible, for him convince the rank and file on the need to relook the country’s decades-long old affirmative action policy favouring the country’s Malays which critics say has outlived its usefulness.

“It is likely that in pushing through the reforms Najib will uproot vested interests (in UMNO) and trigger a backlash, so we will have to see if he can push through,” said political analyst Yang Razali Kassim.

Source : Reuters

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