Mahathir’s patently unfair cabinet by P Gunasegaram
Friday, July 13, 2018
Malaysiakini : COMMENT | If fairness becomes
secondary to your desire to hold the reins of power and to exercise any
prerogative you may or may not have in your own favour, how much better
are you than your predecessors?
One can argue till the cows come home and one can muster all kinds of
distorted reasoning to support one’s beloved leader and current hero,
but there is only one fair way to allocate cabinet positions - it must
reflect at least roughly the proportion of parliamentary seats the
respective parties won.
Otherwise, it is simply not a reflection of the desire of the people
as shown in the polls and one can draw a clear and unwanted parallel to
the gerrymandering that has been prevalent in our polls for a long time
whereby some constituencies are several times the size of others.
Certainly not something that Pakatan Harapan, or the majority of
When we look at the composition of Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet, it
is patently unfair and ridiculous. It represents a barely disguised
attempt to usurp power in favour of his own Bersatu, which won only 13
of 52 seats it contested in Peninsular Malaysia, by far the worst
showing of any of the component parties at a 25% win rate.
To illustrate how ridiculous the situation is, consider this: Bersatu
has 13 MPs and all but two of them have become either ministers (6),
deputy ministers (4) or menteri besar (Mahathir’s son Mukhriz who is
Kedah menteri besar). Probably all MPs but Mahathir, Muhyiddin Yassin
and Mukhriz are first-time MPs. So, up to eight first-time MPs have
become either ministers or deputy ministers.
What a travesty of justice when long-time parties such as PKR and DAP
who have many multiple-term MPs have been simply left out in the cold.
PKR had many Malay MPs who could have easily filled positions much
better than the raw, untested material that Bersatu had to offer besides
Mahathir and Muhyiddin.
Let’s look at the proportion of parliamentary seats of each party
relative to the proportion of members in the cabinet and deputies. The
numbers for cabinet positions and deputies are taken from this article in Malaysiakini, which also highlights the severe under-representation of PKR and DAP in the cabinet.
The figures speak for themselves. While PKR has 39% of seats in the
coalition, they have only 26% of cabinet positions. In contrast, Bersatu
with 11% of seats has 22% of cabinet positions, double what they are
entitled to. In terms of numbers, if the proportionate principle is
applied, PKR should have 10 to 11 cabinet positions instead of seven,
while Bersatu should have two to three instead of six.
The sequence of events indicates a devious, orchestrated and managed
attempt to shore up Mahathir’s power and give him much more control of
the country and how it is run by using so-called prime ministerial
prerogative to choose his cabinet, and using an organised campaign to
push such views across.
The talk about such prime ministerial prerogative - which comes up
over and over in online comments - is specious and holds no sway in a
completely different context where Mahathir’s party is a minority
partner in the coalition where the big boys are clearly PKR and DAP.
By using so-called public opinion, which sometimes is manipulated by
planted opinions, and the myth that Mahathir alone won the elections for
all Malaysians, he has chosen to ignore the basic rules in any
coalition - consultation and consensus as far as that is possible.
He inveigled himself into the hearts of DAP by offering its supremo
Lim Guan Eng the coveted finance minister’s position, apparently without
prior consultation with PKR which had the highest number of seats in
the coalition with 48. Anwar Ibrahim’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was
named deputy prime minister.
After that, Mahathir could do no wrong in the eyes of the DAP and the
DAP sang Mahathir’s praises and his so-called vision and foresight.
When PKR’s Rafizi Ramli questioned why Mahathir was being
non-consultative, he was roundly chastised - and rather rudely - by a
storm of cybertroopers.
At the same time of the announcement of Lim as finance minister,
other announcements of the core team were Muhyiddin as the home
minister, which should have been offered to PKR considering that
Mahathir was only going to be transitional prime minister until Anwar
took over. Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu took on the
Mahathir delayed the announcement of the full cabinet until July 4,
an unprecedented almost two months after the elections. Instead he,
simultaneously with the core ministers group, announced a Jedi-like
council of elders or Council of Eminent Persons as it was formally
known. This was headed by his close friend and controversial former
finance minister Daim Zainuddin who many are uncomfortable with to this
This council seemed to be taking care of important matters instead of
a properly constituted cabinet. Other members were former Bank Negara
governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas CEO Hassan Marican, Hong
Kong-based Malaysian tycoon 94-year-old Robert Kuok, and economics
professor Jomo Kwame Sundaram.
Meantime, Mahathir’s tone became more vague about when he will step
down as prime minister. Before he joined Harapan and Anwar’s campaign to
oust Najib Razak, he said that he was not interested in becoming prime
minister - he only wanted to help remove Najib. That changed to he does
not mind that if the people wanted it but it will only be for a
transition period of perhaps two years.
And then he said that he may have to stay on longer if it was needed
and left open the date when Anwar would replace him. That has raised
much concern within PKR, although many did not voice it the way Rafizi
did, there is definite uneasiness within PKR about Mahathir’s
But this did not seem to be the case with DAP, which struck a cosy
relationship with Mahathir post Lim becoming finance minister, with both
echoing each other about how bad the debt situation in the country was
but providing little substance to their argument, as this article explains.
In fact, insiders say DAP played a big role in convincing Harapan to
accept Mahathir as interim prime minister in favour of the straight and
honest Wan Azizah who was considered not to be savvy enough when it
comes to politics.
In fact, when the king asked Wan Azizah to form the new cabinet as
the leader of the party with the highest seats (remember, they all,
except for Warisan, contested under the PKR symbol), she politely turned
him down and said the coalition has chosen Mahathir as the prime
minister. Wan Azizah then went on to ask the king to pardon her husband,
which he readily agreed to.
But Mahathir is not one to necessarily honour the spirit of
agreements, which in the case of his position in Harapan meant that he
needs to consult Harapan leaders even if he is prime minister. This is,
after all, the new Malaysia. The prime minister’s party can no longer
rule by itself. He needs the support of the others. His prerogative can
be removed by his coalition partners by removing him as coalition
leader. That is the way it should be. No more dictatorship through the
exercise of prerogative.
DAP’s cosy relationship ended when Mahathir did not make adjustments in his final cabinet list. Rumblings of discontent
over the final cabinet list spread through the DAP and Mahathir was
criticised for not selecting members from the list submitted by the
Harapan’s mistake was not to agree on cabinet composition criteria
before agreeing to Mahathir as prime minister and now the PM was
exercising his prerogative. But it is a prerogative that must be
exercised judiciously, repeat, judiciously.
In fact, one name which reports say he chose was PKR’s Azmin Ali (below)
for the powerful economy ministry although this was not proposed by PKR
because Azmin was already sworn in as Selangor menteri besar. That may
have been done to further dilute Anwar’s influence by raising the
alternative scenario of Azmin becoming prime minister in the future.
Prerogative does not mean a licence to appoint whoever and appoint
political novices who have no proven expertise in any area into the
cabinet. Two examples will suffice - Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman and Rina
There is no record I could find of Syed Saddiq ever having held a
job. This 26-year old goes from a student straight into the cabinet as
youth and sports minister when they are so many other more capable
leaders within Harapan. Rina is rural and regionaldevelopment minister
and was a former Umno politician. On the other hand, her deputy is
prominent PKR lawyer and social activist R Sivarasa, one of those who
has tirelessly been campaigning for decades against BN. How unfair is
Surely, this kind of blatant unfairness is not what Harapan wants.
Mahathir’s excesses - and he does not have the power in terms of
parliamentary seats to do this - can only be checked if the two main
long-standing partners in Harapan stand together as one and do not let
themselves be divided by anyone, and most of all the ever-wily Mahathir.
The lesson PKR and DAP should learn is to stick together and be
united and remember why they wanted to overthrow BN in the first place.
Otherwise, Mahathir is going to prove to be a menace in future insistent
on doing it his way without due consultation. Note: This article is the first in a series about Malaysia post-GE14.
The next article deals with the question: Did Mahathir win the
elections for Malaysians?
P GUNASEGARAM says we must never again surrender our right to question and criticise - fairly. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.