Malaysian cabinet reshuffle: Shrewd move or political gamble for Najib?


Channel News Asia
30th July 2015

Amid sackings, step-downs and new appointments following the 1MDB saga, Channel NewsAsia’s Insight explores the prime minister’s motivation and game plan.

KUALA LUMPUR: In the weeks since the Wall Street Journal reported on the investigation of Malaysia’s troubled state wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), significant cabinet changes have been made by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Amid allegations that US$700 million (RM$2.7 billion) from companies linked with 1MDB was transferred to the prime minister’s account, Mr Najib on Monday sacked his deputy prime minister, Mr Muhyiddin Yassin, following his public remarks on the ongoing investigation.

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail had his tenure terminated with immediate effect, citing health reasons. Mr Patail, who headed the special task force investigating the allegations concerning 1MDB, suffers from a kidney ailment and was set to retire in October.

As electoral reform group, Bersih, demands Mr Najib’s resignation, analysts speaking to Channel NewsAsia’s Insight try to make sense of Najib’s game plan, his motivations, and what is in store for the Malaysian prime minister and his party.

Mr Ibrahim Suffian, Programme Director, Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research (Kuala Lumpur).

FIXING IT, INSIDE AND OUT

Programme Director Ibrahim Suffian, from the Merdeka Center For Opinion Research in Kuala Lumpur, said Najib’s acts address two issues – stemming dissent internally from within the party and tempering an increasingly negative public perception towards him.

A January Merdeka Center poll on public perception of Malaysians towards their prime minister slipped four percentage points to 44 per cent.

“I think the motive of dismissal is ensuring that the PM’s position is not challenged internally,” said Mr Ibrahim.

“So the PM took a decisive step in trying to ensure stability within his own team before he goes out to the political domain, the electorate and the business community to address the challenge.”

But would removing an AG and your Deputy PM be seen as “desperate acts” in the middle of investigations?

Said Mr Ibrahim: “It is not an act of desperation. You are in a crisis. You need to fix your team (and) get your house in order before you go out and meet the challenges. It depends on the perspective one takes in this particular problem. The dismissal of the DPM was a necessary move.”

Dr Ooi Kee Beng, Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

A SACK THAT’S GOING TO HURT?

Dr Ooi Kee Beng, deputy director at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, however, believes Mr Najib’s actions were indeed surprising, and despite his best intentions to protect himself, the moves would have a detrimental effect on his party, given that Mr Muhyiddin is also UMNO’s deputy party president.

“This is going to have repercussions within UMNO itself, and that would lead his opponents within UMNO, (including) retired members within UMNO, to consolidate their criticism of him, just as he is now consolidating his own people within the government,” said Dr Ooi.

And while Mr Najib may be building a team of loyalists around him, the prime minister and his cabinet could lose touch with sections of Malaysian society.

“The danger now is that it would mean that the cabinet would isolate itself even further from Malaysian society, from the Malay community, large segments of it, and perhaps from segments of the party itself,” said Dr Ooi.

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  1. #1 by Justice Ipsofacto on Friday, 31 July 2015 - 8:41 am

    Political suicide.

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