Cabinet appointment will be tricky test of Malaysia PM Anwar’s leadership: observers

November 29, 2022

SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is facing a tricky leadership test in his first week after taking office, as he assembles a Cabinet smaller than previous administrations while appeasing various political bigwigs supporting him.

The Cabinet line-up – which he will announce in the coming days – will need to instil confidence and satisfy the many different parties, after one of the most polarising elections in the country, analysts said on Monday.

Stability is very critical at this point, stressed Associate Professor Maznah Mohamad of the Department of Malay Studies and Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

“It is, of course, a challenge for Mr Anwar because the coalition is very delicate in a way (and) the plurality of the people in it,” she told CNA’s Asia First. “It is a challenge because on the one hand, he wants a very small Cabinet, but on the other hand, there are so many parties for him to appease.”

Prof Maznah added: “Hopefully, people will see the bigger picture. The bigger picture is really to make sure that confidence in the government is instilled.” Anwar had earlier stressed that his Cabinet size will be downsized and that he is also seeking the agreement of members who will be appointed to reduce their salaries.

Ms Aira Nur Ariana Azhari, senior manager of the democracy and governance unit at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said the cabinet appointment will be “a real test” of Anwar’s leadership skills.

“You want to appoint the best people to the best positions but at the same time ... maintaining the support from all these different parties is extremely crucial,” she added. “Because the last thing you want is one party threatening to pull out and yet another government collapses ... so we do not want that.”

Anwar will also do away with appointing ministers as a form of reward. “Of course, we can consider one or two cases where it’s absolutely necessary, but it should not be seen as rewarding political masters in order that they support you,” the Pakatan Harapan chairman said on Sunday.

“I want them to support me based on my policies and my commitment towards good governance, my commitment to anti-corruption drive, and to resuscitate the economy.” Malaysia has previously been known for having inflated Cabinets and giving positions for political reward, Ms Aira told CNA938’s Asia First.

Prof Maznah said: “Much as he wants to put people who are competent in the Cabinet positions, you can’t run away from the politics itself. So he would still need to give positions to the main parties or the coalitions involved.”

She believes it is necessary to have an equitable distribution of power, but that will be a challenge with a small Cabinet. “But I think it’s very important for him to drive home the message that a stable government is important, that having him there leading the country would actually promise a better Malaysia,” she said. “So that message has to come through, at all levels. The lower income groups will be his priority, but also I think the middle class and the elite groups are equally important.”