Monday Mar 29 2004

Malaysia PM under fire on cabinet choices

By John Burton

Malaysia's opposition parties expressed doubts about prime minister Abdullah Badawi's commitment to reforms after he decided to keep "old guard" members in his new cabinet.
"Abdullah has failed his first acid test to deliver his pledge of a clean and incorruptible cabinet," said Lim Kit Siang, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Action party (DAP).
Mr Abdullah, whose government won a landslide victory a week ago, re-appointed all the top ministers he inherited from the administration of Mahathir Mohamad, who left office in late October. The new cabinet "has failed to prove that Abdullah has come out of the shadows of his former boss, Mahathir Mohamad", said Syed Husin Ali, head of the opposition National Justice party.
Prior to the elections, in which the ruling National Front coalition won 90 per cent of parliamentary seats, the opposition had accused the new prime minister of using a high-profile anti-corruption campaign as a ploy to win votes.
Several of the cabinet members have been the subject of corruption allegations, with Mr Lim last week calling for four of them to be replaced in the new cabinet.
"All the ministers are clean. There's no case against them to say that they cannot be appointed," said Mr Abdullah, who dismissed the opposition criticism as whining. "I have to run the government. I will run it my way. When has the opposition ever said we have done a good thing?"
Some analysts said Mr Abdullah, in spite of his strong election mandate, might have decided to retain the top cabinet members because he would face internal party elections in June. Some cabinet members are influential powerbrokers within the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), which leads the government coalition.
Mr Abdullah had displeased vested interests in Umno when he launched his anti-corruption campaign.
The prime minister was also forced to reserve some cabinet posts for his coalition partners, such as Samy Vallu, head of the Malaysian Indian Congress and the minister of public works, who was named by the DAP as one of those who should be dismissed.
The prime minister increased the number of cabinet posts from 29 to 33, including splitting in two the home affairs and education ministries. Mr Abdullah will remain as finance minister and home minister, now renamed minister for internal security.
Hishamuddin Hussein, son of former prime minister Hussein Onn, was appointed education minister.
Malaysia has raised this year's economic growth forecast to 6-6.5 per cent from 5.5-6 per cent because of a strong global recovery, increased orders for its mainstay electronics industry and higher prices for palm oil and crude oil exports.
The central bank also announced new market-based rules for interest rates and a relaxation of foreign exchange rules that would allow local funds to invest abroad.

Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"