Malaysia’s new leader keeps largely same Cabinet, no deputy

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob retained mostly familiar faces in his Cabinet unveiled Friday, but vowed his government will be more open as it seeks to curb a worsening pandemic.

The Cabinet lineup mirrors that of his predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned Aug. 16 after less than 18 months in office as infighting in his coalition cost him majority support.

Ismail did not name a deputy but kept the four senior ministerial posts, which had been created by Muhyiddin to keep factions in his Malay-majority government happy. Banker Zafrul Abdul Aziz held on to the powerful finance portfolio while some former ministers swapped portfolios.

Opposition lawmakers immediately voiced disappointment with what they called a recycling of the former government, which failed to curb the pandemic despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June.

Malaysia hit a daily record of 24,599 infections on Thursday to push its total to 1.64 million. Daily deaths also reached a high of 393, raising the toll to 15,211. Vaccinations are moving rapidly, with more than half the adult population fully inoculated.

Lim Guan Eng, an opposition leader, said the new Cabinet was disappointing and raised questions whether Ismail is committed to seeking new solutions to the pandemic and economic recession. Another opposition lawmaker, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, said it was a “wasted opportunity” for Ismail to bring about real change.

Many Malaysians also slammed the decision on social media, saying they felt let down by the return of what many view as an incompetent Cabinet.

Ismail said the team was chosen based on their experience and to ensure stability. He pledged the economy will be reopened in stages amid the lockdown. “This Cabinet will take a new approach that is more open” and be more sensitive to current needs to restore public confidence, he said in a live national broadcast.

Ismail was a senior minister in charge of defense under Muhyiddin’s government, before he was promoted to deputy prime minister in July this year.

He was named by Malaysia’s king as the new prime minister and sworn in Saturday after obtaining the backing of 114 lawmakers for a slender majority. His appointment brought Muhyiddin’s alliance back to power. It also returned the premiership to Ismail’s United Malays National Organization, which led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in 2018 elections amid a multibillion-dollar financial scandal.

“This is largely the same Cabinet as Muhyiddin both in terms of size and composition. So how this not-so-new Cabinet could then proceed to formulate more effective policies to handle the pandemic as well as revive the economy, that really remains to be seen,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Ismail said the Cabinet will be sworn in on Monday, and that each ministry must prove their performance within the first 100 days in office.

Popular former Science Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who was in charge of the vaccination program, is now the health minister. Former Health Minister Adham Baba took over the science portfolio. Ex-Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein is Defense Minister, while former Communications Minister Saifuddin Abdullah was made foreign minister. All of the posts are held by ethnic Malays, except for transport and human resources.

Some Malaysians lauded Khairy’s appointment, voicing hope that he can improve the situation in overcrowded hospitals and boost morale of frontline medical workers.

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