In Cabinet Shakeup, Malaysia’s PM Dumps Outspoken Deputy

By Nani Yusof and Hata Wahari
2015.07.28
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150728-MY-SACKED-620 Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (right), who has since been sacked, appears with Prime Minister Najib Razak at an event in Putrajaya, July 8, 2015.
AFP

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Tuesday fired his deputy who had criticized him over corruption allegations tied to an indebted state fund, along with an attorney general who was leading an investigation into the matter.

After reshuffling his cabinet and jettisoning Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, Najib announced the move live on national television.

In the shakeup, Najib dismissed five ministers and added seven new ones to his team. The new ministers will take office on Wednesday.

The move makes Muhyiddin the second deputy sacked in Malaysian political history, after Anwar Ibrahim – the jailed leader of Malaysia’s opposition bloc – was dismissed by then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in September 1998.

''The decision to replace Muhyiddin was very difficult, but I had to do to get the cabinet to work as a solid and unified team,” the prime minister said.

''I welcome dissent and criticism as part of the process of decision-making. However, as a member of the cabinet, differences of opinion and viewpoint should not be conducted in an open forum that can affect public opinion against the government and the state,” he added. “It is also contrary to the concept of collective responsibility of the cabinet.”

Silencing critics

Muhyiddin’s dismissal came two days after he criticized Najib at a Kuala Lumpur meeting of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party – the backbone of the ruling coalition. In a speech, he called on the prime minister to answer allegations of corruption against him that stemmed from the cash-strapped 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.

“This is outrageous,” opposition MP Charles Santiago told BenarNews in an email. “Prime Minister Najib Razak has gone for the kill to save his skin as the cabinet reshuffle boils down to one thing – the debt-ridden 1MDB.”

“He has acted swiftly to silence his critics, including former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin, who said that UMNO was losing out with the people because Najib refused to tell the truth, while the internet was filled with details implicating him in the financial heist,” Santiago added.

The allegations have mired Najib in the worst crisis to threaten his hold on power since he came to office in April 2009. They surfaced in early July when the U.S.-based Wall Street Journal and the Britain-based Sarawak Report published reports alleging that nearly U.S. $700 million in 1MDB money had been funneled into Najib’s private bank accounts.

The prime minister has denied doing anything wrong or personally gaining from the 1MDB fund, which is $U.S. 11 billion in debt.

UMNO supreme council to meet

Najib and Muhyiddin still hold the top two positions in UMNO, which has been in power since 1957. Sources close the party say its supreme council will meet Friday to determine whether the former deputy prime minister should stay on as UMNO’s deputy chairman.

On Monday, state-run Bernama quoted supreme council member Irmohizam Ibrahim as saying it would meet at week’s end to have a “heart to heart” discussion about the 1MDB affair.

Muhyiddin, who was also minister of education, was replaced as deputy prime minister by Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is retaining his portfolio for home affairs.

Last week, Zahid’s ministry ordered the three-month suspension of a pair of financial publications – The Edge Financial Daily and The Edge Weekly – which had been reporting on the 1MDB corruption scandal.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Muhyiddin said he had accepted Najib’s decision with an open heart because hiring and firing members of the cabinet was the prime minister's prerogative.

“As the deputy prime minister, I have been directly involved in the creation of government policies and carry out the duties entrusted to me with great trust. During my service, I will always support all government policies and support the leadership of the prime minister,” Muhyiddin said.

“Except on the 1MDB issue, I have my own principles and stand in defense of people's rights, the good name of the party and state interests. If I was dropped from the cabinet because of my stance on this issue, I am alleviated,” he added.

AG dismissed

Meanwhile, Chief Secretary of the Government Ali Hamsa announced that Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail was being terminated for “health reasons” and replaced by former Federal Court Judge Mohamed Apandi Ali – effective this past Monday (July 27).

Abdul Gani had been heading an inter-agency task force probing the corruption allegations involving Najib and 1MDB.

According to the Associated Press, Abdul Gani confirmed earlier in July that “he had received documents from investigators that linked Najib and 1MDB.”

The now former attorney general would continue to serve as a judicial and legal service officer until his mandatory retirement on Oct. 6, the chief secretary said.

"Abdul Gani Patail has contributed tremendously to the country as the attorney general. On behalf of the government, I wish to record my deepest appreciation and thanks for the service he has rendered and hope he will always be blessed with good health," Ali Hamsa said.

Other changes

Among the faces joining Najib’s cabinet is UMNO MP Nur Jazlan Mohamed, who said he would resign as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to take on a new role as deputy home minister.

The committee has been investigating the 1MDB affair, and all PAC proceedings scheduled for August would be postponed until the Dewan Rakyat, the House of Representatives, holds its next session, starting Oct. 19, Nur Jazlan said.

Three other PAC members from the UMNO party also will be joining the new cabinet as deputy ministers: Reezal Merican Naina Merican, Wilfred Madius Tangau and Mas Ermieyati Samsudin.

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