In shuffling cabinet, Malaysian PM to share finance portfolio with second minister

Minderjeet Kaur, Ili Shazwani Ihsan, and Iman Muttaqin Yusof
2023.12.12
Kuala Lumpur
In shuffling cabinet, Malaysian PM to share finance portfolio with second minister Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Riayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah (right) swears in Human Resources Minister Steven Sim (left), Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad and Digital Minister Gobind Singh Deo, as Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and wife Wan Azizah Ismail (both seated) look on at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Dec 12, 2023.
Courtesy Malaysia Parliament Facebook

In his first cabinet reshuffle, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim appointed a top CEO Tuesday to share his duties as finance minister, saying this would allow the economy to get back on track amid sluggish growth and rising consumer prices.

Anwar said he sought to include people with more experience and expertise in the cabinet by naming some new ministers and swapping portfolios of others. As he announced the changes, he underscored that the economy, health and education were the top priorities for his year-old administration.

“Circumstances have changed, not only in terms of past performances but also due to changes in economic growth, [and] the need to manage the cost of living effectively,” Anwar said during a special news conference.

With the changes, the cabinet expanded from 28 ministers to 31 and deputy ministers from 27 to 29, bringing the total to 60. 

One minister, V. Sivakumar, who held the human resources portfolio, was dropped from the cabinet. He had faced calls to resign after ministry aides were charged with corruption, according to media reports. 

Anwar retains the finance ministry portfolio but appointed the CEO of the of the state-run Employees Provident Fund, Amir Hamzah Azizan, as Minister of Finance II,.

Amir is new to politics but has worked for more than 25 years at Malaysia’s Tenaga Nasional energy company and Petronas, the state-owned oil and gas company. 

“My personal view is that the Ministry of Finance, other than [being] headed by me, must have a strong professional team so that we are on the right track and not sidelined by political pressures,” Anwar said.

Ministers with new portfolios include Zambry Abdul Kadir, a veteran of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, who moved from foreign affairs to the higher education ministry. 

UMNO’s deputy chief Mohamad Hasan, who was serving as defense minister, took over the portfolio for foreign affairs.

“God willing, my commitment is to continue the progressive, free and inclusive foreign policy in line with the national interests and international role of Malaysia,” he said after his appointment. 

To replace Mohamad Hasan, Anwar moved UMNO Vice President Khaled Nordin from the higher education ministry. 

In another notable appointment, Johari Ghani, another UMNO vice president, was named the commodities minister. Johari had been voicing concerns over food security issues in the Parliament after traders reported shortages of chicken, eggs and sugar.

He told reporters that he needed to tackle several challenges to ensure the country had an adequate food supply. 

Fadillah Yusof, a deputy prime minister, will hold the new energy transition and public utilities portfolio.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the UMNO president who also serves as a deputy prime minister, kept his portfolio as rural and regional development minister. Earlier this year, the Kuala Lumpur High Court dropped 47 graft charges against Zahid linked to the alleged misuse of funds at a charity he founded to fight poverty.

Other moves

Anwar transferred Health Minister Zaliha Mustafa to the federal territories ministry. Toxicology expert Dzulkefly Ahmad will serve as health minister, a position he held from 2018 to 2020.

Anwar said he gave Dzulkefly the health portfolio because the government needed “experience and a stronger focus.”

The prime minister split the communications and digital ministry. Gobind Singh Deo is returning to the cabinet as digital minister while Fahmi Fadzil will serve as the communications minister.  

Anwar said the digital ministry would enhance new fields such as artificial intelligence and digital transformation while Fahmi would be responsible for disseminating government policies and information. 

The new ministers were sworn in during a Tuesday afternoon ceremony at Istana Negara, the National Palace. 

12-MY-cabinet2.jpeg
Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (left), joined by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announces his Cabinet reshuffle during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Dec 12, 2023. [Prime Minister's Office]

Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, a political analyst at the International Islamic University Malaysia, said the reshuffle was anticipated to address the vacancy left by the July death of Salahuddin Ayub, who served as Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs minister.

Tunku Mohar said Anwar considered two significant factors in filling the cabinet – representation of coalition members and the appointment of individuals with experience. The analyst pointed to the appointments of Johari Ghani, Dzulkefly and Gobind Singh as examples of the latter. 

“Their experience would inject stability to the cabinet. Also, having a second finance minister relieves some burdens of the PM,” he told BenarNews.

Two primary reasons for the cabinet reshuffle were to boost public perception by appointing Dzulkefly as health minister and to signal that the government was open to exploring new strategies, said James Chin, an Asian studies professor at the University of Tasmania.

Pointing to Fadhlina Sidek, who was retained as education minister, Chin said the reshuffle might not instill the desired confidence.

She was criticized in October for organizing Palestinian Solidarity Week, where photos and videos emerged showing Malaysian students and teachers brandishing toy firearms while waving Palestinian flags at more than one public school, igniting a public backlash.

Chin supported Anwar’s decision to have Steven Sim, a former deputy finance minister, replace Sivakumar as the human resource minister. 

Meanwhile, Syaza Shukri, an associate professor of political science at the International Islamic University Malaysia, said the return of ministers with experience was a positive move.  

“The change may have been due to mounting pressure,” she told BenarNews.

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