Badawi keeps his friends close in new cabinet

By Liau Y-Sing

Kuala Lumpur - Fresh from a landslide election victory that owed much to a strong anti-graft platform, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi kept faith with the old guard when he named a new cabinet on Saturday.

The retirement of five ministers who had served under his predecessor, veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad, and the resignation of another allowed Abdullah to bring in some young blood.

He also created several new portfolios.

"This is to give some new faces a chance. Those who were not included, it doesn't mean that they were implicated in crime or corruption," Abdullah told a news conference.

Otherwise there was a strong sense of continuity from a prime minister who had appeared bent on differentiating his administration from that of Mahathir's since taking over the premiership in October.

Abdullah, whose "Mr Clean" image was a key factor in beating the Islamist opposition last Sunday, kept the finance portfolio for himself.

But to lighten his load, Abdullah broke up the Home Ministry, creating a new Internal Security Ministry, which he will control. New Home Affairs Minister Azmi Khalid is one of the younger generation the prime minister is keen to promote.

Abdullah retained Nor Mohamed Yakcop, an ex-central banker who had been Mahathir's economic adviser, as Second Finance Minister, and brought in Mustapa Mohamed, an economist with prior experience at the Finance Ministry, as a minister in the Prime Minister's Department.

Najib Razak, who Abdullah promoted to deputy prime minister in January, kept the number two spot and the position of defence minister.

Syed Hamid Albar, foreign minister since 1999, held on to his job despite being associated in the international community with some of the more controversial positions taken by Mahathir, notably over relations between the West and the Islamic world.

Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz, ever present in Mahathir cabinets and longest serving minister in World Trade Organisation negotiations, also kept her post.

The other rising star is Najib's cousin, Hishamuddin Hussein, who was promoted from the sports ministry to education minister.

There were few casualties.

After Abdullah read the list, the first question in the news conference which followed was whether the cabinet was clean.

"Yes. There's no case for them not to be appointed," Abdullah responded. He added: "Being a minister doesn't give them immunity from the due process of the law."

Abdullah led the ruling coalition to a huge victory in polls last Sunday, capturing more than 90 percent of the seats in parliament and winning control of 12 of Malaysia's 13 state governments.

The margin of victory had sparked speculation that Abdullah could go in for a wholesale revamp of his cabinet.

But Abdullah's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party that heads the multi-ethnic Barisan Nasional coalition, holds internal elections at mid-year, and political analysts say he will be wary of sparking any in-fighting.

Two ministers, who leadership insiders thought could be axed, survived although they were moved to different ministries.

Jamaludin Jarjis was moved from domestic trade to become minister of science, technology and innovation. Abdullah had already demoted Jamaludin from the powerful Second Finance Minister position in January.

Entrepreneur Development Minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, blighted by a scandal over the awarding of taxi licences, stays in cabinet as a minister in the Prime Minister's Department.


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