“New Cabinet mirrors Muhyiddin Cabinet 2.0 more than anything else”
By Prof Wong Chin Huat
PRIME Minister (PM) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s new cabinet may be better characterised as a “Cabinet reshuffle”.
Excluding the end of tenure for former PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s three ministerial special envoys, only nine (13%) government frontbenchers including Muhyiddin have been dropped and replaced by eight new ones.
The total number dropped by one from 70 to 69 – no more no less.
As such, this may be seen as Muhyiddin Cabinet 2.0. It is hard to imagine how almost a same line-up with some swap of portfolios – most notably between Khairy Jamaluddin (now Health Minister) and Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba (now Science, Technology and Innovation Minister) – can avoid being labelled as #KerajaanGagal2.
Ismail Sabri is overly cautious in not dropping deadwood ministers like Dr Adham or Datuk Seri Rina Harun or promoting Khairy Jamaluddin as a senior minister in charge of pandemics.
Ismail Sabri has wasted his newly gained political capital from his peace-making with the opposition on Wednesday (Aug 25).
With an expected Confidence and Supply Agreement (CSA) with the opposition in his hand, he should have been bolder to fend off the competing demands from Bersatu, Umno and GPS to build a team with some bright spots.
By ‘playing safe’ on his cabinet line-up, he has likely put himself in danger. Any blunder by his ministers will likely provoke more anger and frustration from the public.
Umno Supreme Council whose meeting has been postponed allegedly five times on Ismail Sabri’s request would likely be furious.
Only one of Umno’s demands is met: no Deputy PM. Two inter-related issues are likely to reignite the Umno civil war as Muhyiddin is seen as Ismail Sabri’s invisible minister mentor.
First, with 87% similar administration, Umno fears itself would pay dearly for the government’s continuous failure. Second, Umno’s main contention of Bersatu’s dominance in Government is hardly addressed with the latter losing in net one minister’s post and two deputy ministers’ post.
Most of Umno’s 15 – even if they are not part of the court cluster – and Supreme Council members who back them are clear losers.
Datuk Seri Dr Shamsul Anuar Nasarah who fired the first slot in resigning is left out of the cabinet. Deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan is not given a minister’s job by way of senatorial appointment.
The able and popular ex-Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said is likewise sidelined. Only Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad and Tan Sri Noh Omar are included in Ismail cabinet.
Meanwhile, two Muhyiddin loyalists are rewarded, Tan Sri Annuar Musa is given the strategic portfolio of Communications and Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim is made Minister of Federal Territories.
Umno is also worried that the Registrar of Societies (ROS) under Bersatu’s Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin’s control may be used to force an early party election for Ismail’s takeover or to de-register Umno if the stand-off gets out of hand.
However, it would be suicidal if the Opposition thinks that they can try another round of number game whether it is under Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal or whosoever.
The public has no tolerance for such repetition of a failed game. The Opposition’s best option is perhaps to secure a CSA with Ismail Sabri on much more favourable term than what Muhyiddin offered on August 13.
And to ultimately form its shadow cabinet to compete on the policy front by providing a stark comparison to the Muhyiddin 2.0 Cabinet for the disappointed Malaysians. – Aug 27, 2021
Prof Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist from the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia.