Wednesday June 2, 2010
Winds of change in Cabinet
By JOCELINE TAN
The mini reshuffle of the Cabinet was mainly aimed at accommodating the leadership changes in MCA and the anticipated changes in MIC.
SO much had been written about the Cabinet reshuffle over the last two months. Media reports had speculated endlessly about when it would take place and who would be in, out or up.
Yet, when the Prime Minister finally got down to it, he still managed to catch most media people by surprise.
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak kept his cards close to his chest until yesterday morning when news leaked out that the King had been informed of the changes.
Najib was supposed to officiate at an SME exhibition at the KLCC yesterday morning but International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed who turned up in his place for the opening ceremony told the gathering the PM had “pressing matters” to attend to.
The journalists there did not suspect what the “pressing matters” were, not even when Najib arrived an hour later to tour the exhibition.
Najib is definitely a different kettle of fish from his predecessor. Apart from being rather tight-lipped, he also keeps his own counsel. As a result, despite the volumes of speculation, no one quite got it right.
The reshuffle has been talked or rather, speculated, about for weeks, especially following the conclusion of the MCA elections in March.
It was aimed primarily at accommodating the leadership changes in MCA and the anticipated changes in MIC.
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek lived up to his word that he would not accept a Cabinet post.
But his political stalwarts have retained positions worthy of their support, loyalty and ability. Secretary-general Datuk Kong Cho Ha is the new Transport Minister whereas top vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen remains as Tourism Minister.
Vice-president Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai, another Chua loyalist, is the new Deputy Finance Minister.
Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, whom Dr Chua defeated for the president’s post, was the biggest casualty despite numerous media reports that he would be retained.
Wee Jack Seng, who is aligned to Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting, was also dropped as Deputy Youth and Sports Minister.
“After a war, there is no such thing as no blood,” said one MCA vice-president on Ong’s departure from the Cabinet.
Deputy Finance Minister and vice-president Datuk Chor Chee Heung was elevated to Housing and Local Government Minister while deputy president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai kept his Health portfolio.
A couple of new faces have also moved into the picture as deputy ministers, namely, Labis MP and Chua’s son, Tee Yong (Agriculture and Agro-based Industries) and vice-president Gan Ping Sieu (Youth and Sports).
The changes affecting the MCA faces are most politically significant and suggest that Dr Chua is moving very strategically to consolidate his leadership in the party.
It is also an indication of the PM’s desire for the MCA to bring closure to the infighting that had rocked the party the last one and a half years.
The appointments will allow the party to settle down to the job of winning back Chinese favour and support for the next general election.
This is one of the more urgent targets of the PM given the state of the Chinese ground sentiment.
The other significant move involved MIC deputy president Datuk G. Palanivel who has been brought back as a Deputy Minister. It is seen as positioning him for an early transition in the MIC leadership.
The Prime Minister is turning out to be quite difficult to read. He has certainly confounded the political pundits on this count.
Most quarters thought he was gearing up for a proper mid-term review-cum-reshuffle given that the Cabinet he had formed on becoming PM was seen as an inherited team from the Abdullah administration.
Instead, most of the changes have been at the level of deputy ministers and aimed at accommodating the goings and comings in some of the component parties like Sarawak’s PBB and SUPP.
But a more substantial reshuffle cannot be ruled out before the year is out that will involve more parties and bigger personalities especially those from Umno which were not affected this time around.
The PM’s staff said his attention has been on the 10th Malaysia Plan. They said his focus has been on this major national plan that will be unveiled in a week’s time.
“He would need more time to consider wider changes that encompass the other parties particularly Umno. He may also want to think about restructuring some of the ministries at that stage,” said a political insider.
Some have suggested that the next hint of a reshuffle would be when he goes on his annual break. He would then have more time to do some serious thinking and evaluation.
“The next reshuffle would bring in the team that will take him to the general election,” said the insider.
In other words, the PM is not thinking of an early general election as claimed by politicians from Pakatan Rakyat.
In fact, early polls is the furthest thing from his mind at the moment.