[Analytics] Muhyiddin surprises with new Cabinet, but will it exceed expectations?

Bersatu president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin signs a letter of appointment at a ceremony in Istana Negara, Kuala Lumpur March 1, 2020. — Bernama. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has surprised voters with his Cabinet, after previously pledging to unveil a “clean” line-up that would address the plight of all Malaysians regardless of their ethnicity or socio-economic class.Zurairi Ar specially for the Malay Mail.

With many names bandied about as potential deputy to the prime minister, Muhyiddin instead eschewed convention by naming four “senior ministers” to represent each bloc that had pledged support for his Perikatan Nasional coalition: his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, Umno, the former PKR-turn-independents, and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (but not PAS).

The line-up saw a mix of returning ministers both from the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan administration, as well as some new faces, including non-politicians.

The ministers and deputy ministers, including those to be appointed senators, will be sworn in today, and will likely go straight to work to tackle a myriad challenges facing the nation: from a downturn in economy due to falling oil prices to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Malay Mail takes a look at the line-up and what it offers.

The good: Chance for technocrats, old hats to shine

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the appointment of Federal Territories mufti Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad as the minister in charge of religious affairs.

Widely seen as relatively progressive and immensely likeable on social media, he will likely be able to bridge the divisive discourse on the administration of Islam, and may be able to side-step any political attacks due to his position.

The appointment of former CIMB Group chief executive Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Aziz as finance minister is largely welcomed as he will not only bring his experience into the Cabinet, but also shield the ministry from any racial misconceptions.

Bersatu’s Mohd Radzi Md Jidin, a former Australia-based forensic accounting lecturer who had previously been a deputy minister of economic affairs, now takes on the hot potato that is the education portfolio.

Similarly, some names whose previous tenure under BN were cut short have now been given the chance to prove themselves: Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed (Economy), Khairy Jamaluddin (Science), and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (Foreign Affairs).

The bad: New ministries, questionable ministers

The decision to spin off national unity into a full-fledged ministry rather than a mere department under the Prime Minister’s Department was a move that has been a long time coming, and all the more pertinent amid the ethno-religious tensions that have flared in recent years.

Similarly, having an Environment Ministry signals a willingness on the part of Putrajaya to consider the climate crisis as serious matter, while a separate Higher Education Ministry may help shift some burden off the Education Ministry.

However, what these moves mean is that the list of ministers and deputy ministers has jumped from 50 to a whopping 70.

Quite a number of ministries also have multiple deputy ministers, such as finance, education, home affairs, health, agriculture, rural development, and farming — leading to accusations that the line-up was a mere exercise of handing out political rewards.

The ugly: Representation out of the window

Despite the huge number of ministers and their deputies, the Cabinet is hardly representative of the Malaysian population.

An important portfolio was created for Sabah and Sarawak Affairs, and several ministerial posts were given to East Malaysian politicians, especially Sarawak’s GPS.

But the rest lean heavily towards the Malay-Muslim majority, with only one minister from the Chinese and Indian community, respectively — despite both communities making up nearly 30 per cent of the population.

Meanwhile, no Cabinet members are younger than 40, a regression from the previous Cabinet. Even the Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Reezal Naina Merican is 47, roughly two decades older than his predecessor Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

Just five out the 31 Cabinet members are women, despite Housing Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin expressing her hopes that women will make up 30 per cent of the Cabinet.

Latest Malaysia’s Cabinet 2020. Source: Malay Mail.

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