PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA - All in all, this is the cabinet and government the Barisan Nasional should have had four years ago.
A smaller cabinet; more than half new faces; long-serving, controversial and ageing and ineffective ministers dropped; racial balance maintained despite heavy losses by component parties; higher representation from Sabah and Sarawak; reformers and proven technocrats co-opted into government; abolishing the post of parliamentary secretary to ensure government members attend parliament.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday demonstrated that he had indeed heard and listened to the voices of the electorate -- almost half of whom voted against his party, handing the coalition its worst defeat since 1969.
He announced a smaller cabinet, comprising 32 ministers. There were 37 deputy ministers.
He broke away from the cabinet he inherited from his predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in 2003 to which he had only made minimal changes despite his major victory in 2004.
The old faces who had stirred so much angst among voters, such as Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu; and the unpopular ministers who were still fielded, like Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin and Datuk Seri Aziz Shamsuddin -- they are all no longer in government.
Long-serving International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz was also dropped. So was controversial Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, who was implicated in the Lingam video clip but has denied all allegations made against him.
Also shown the exit door was Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis and the two ministers from Perlis who were involved in the divisive political fracas in the small state -- Datuk Seri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad and Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid.
Perlis, which had the biggest representation in percentage terms, did not get even one position this time because of the problems its MPs created before, during and after the general election.
And in their places came 16 new ministers, including the respected Malayan Banking chief executive officer Datuk Amirsham A Aziz, in charge of economic planning; outspoken lawyer Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, in charge of judicial reforms; and maverick but hard-hitting and respected Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad.
The prime minister had, in an interview with the New Straits Times, said that ministers given tickets to contest the general election would not be guaranteed re-appointment.
There was a completely new slate of leaders from the MCA, who still got their four cabinet positions despite their much reduced representation in parliament. And there's a new minister from the Malaysian Indian Congress -- the first time the Indians have not been represented by Samy Vellu in almost 30 years.
One party with no representative in the cabinet is Gerakan, which was voted out by its Chinese supporters, winning only two parliamentary seats. One Gerakan MP and one senator were made deputy ministers.
Women may have lost out a little, as their outstanding candidates like Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil and Datuk Paduka Chew Mei Fun were among those thrown out by the anti-BN sentiment, despite their impressive track records as caring MPs.
Nevertheless, slightly more than 10 per cent of the government are women -- two ministers -- Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said and Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen (the MCA's first-ever woman minister) and five deputy ministers, compared with three ministers, three deputies and six parliamentary secretaries in the previous larger cabinet.
Datuk Dr Mashitah Ibrahim, who did not contest in the general election, was made a deputy minister. She, together with Zaid and Amirsham, were sworn in as senators yesterday.
Sabah, which remained a BN bastion, was rewarded with two extra deputy ministers for a total of three ministers and four deputy ministers; Sarawak, which also stemmed the anti-BN tide from spreading over its shores, was given an additional four deputy ministers, for a total of two ministers and eight deputies.
Abdullah, who is also BN chairman and Umno president, unveiled his cabinet line-up an hour after getting the consent of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin.
It was also a different Abdullah, speaking to the press yesterday. Looking a little more aged since the election, he addressed the press firmly, in a no-nonsense manner and there was a sense that the Mr Nice Guy, who bantered, joked and smiled a lot, had changed after polling day, March 8.
Abdullah said: "This cabinet reflects the spirit of power-sharing and co-operation of the BN.
"I am confident it will effectively implement the government's agenda and projects."
The prime minister himself took on only one portfolio -- first Minister of Finance -- and will continue to be assisted by the widely respected and effective technocrat-turned-politician Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop as second Minister of Finance.
He gave up the security portfolio, merging the Internal Security Ministry and the Home Affairs Ministry into the Home Affairs Ministry, to be helmed by the no-nonsense former foreign minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.
Now, Abdullah will have time to look into the problems within Umno and the BN and revamp both structures to bring them back to the strength they had before.
Both Abdullah and his deputy, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, were holed up the last few days deciding on the new cabinet, after meeting all BN component party heads. From the reactions at all levels, it is probably the best cabinet the BN government has chosen in a long, long time.
- Rafidah Aziz (Umno): International Trade and Industry
- Dr Fong Chan Onn (MCA): Human Resources
- Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad (Umno): Home Affairs
- Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis (Umno): Science, Technology and Innovation
- Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid (Umno): Natural Resources and Environment
- Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor (Umno): Tourism
- Datuk Abdullah Md Zin (Umno): (Prime Minister's Dept)
- Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting (MCA): (Housing and Local Government)
Who lost in the General Elections?
- S Samy Vellu (MIC) : Works
- Shahrizat Abdul Jalil (Umno) : Women, Family and Community Development
- Zainuddin Maidin (Umno) : Information
- Abdul Aziz Shamsuddin (Umno) : Rural and Regional Development
- Dr Abdullah Md Zin (Umno) : Prime Minister's Department