PUTRAJAYA: The Prime Minister flew back quietly to Kuala Lumpur on New Year’s Day after a short break in Perth. He has since kept himself busy meeting small groups of people at his official residence here.
One top item is the Cabinet reshuffle, which Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has kept his options only to himself, ahead of the changes coming up.
He is still on leave, taking time to reflect on the important changes he is making. He will chair his first Cabinet meeting for the year on Jan 11, one day after Hari Raya Haji.
Abdullah is expected to make numerous changes to the Cabinet line-up as well as those at the deputy ministers’ level to strengthen his two-year-old administration.
For sure, a decision is expected on the Federal Territories Minister’s post following the resignation of Tan Sri Mohamed Isa Samad after he was suspended from Umno for money politics.
Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil is the current acting minister. The Lembah Pantai MP is the Women, Family and Community Development Minister.
Abdullah would also make known his stand on the fate of Information Minister Datuk Seri Kadir Sheikh Fadzir and Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid, who failed to get elected into the Umno supreme council.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad is tipped to move to another portfolio. He is also the Umno secretary-general.
The spotlight will also be on Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, the longest serving International Trade and Industries Minister, who was embroiled in the Approved Permit issue last year. It is likely that she would remain in the Cabinet but the position remains to be seen.
There have been suggestions that Abdullah should abolish various ministries in a move to reduce the size of the administration but it is not clear whether he would fill up the various positions or abolish them.
While most of the Barisan leaders are likely to maintain the status quo for their respective ministerial positions in the Cabinet, some are expected to make changes to their deputy ministers' line-up.
It is understood that MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting has already submitted the party’s proposals, including changes of deputy ministers, to Abdullah.
Ka Ting and his deputy Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy are almost certain to keep their posts at the Housing and Local Government and Transport Ministries respectively.
“The other two Cabinet members are Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek and Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn. The status quo is expected,” one source said.
Abdullah, however, is expected to make changes to the positions of the party’s various deputies. They are Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, Deputy Information Minister Datuk Donald Lim, and Deputy Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong.
The MCA’s recommendations are based on the results of the party elections in June, which saw Lim and Tee Keat being elected as two of the four vice-presidents.
Then, there is also Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, who was elected as the MCA Youth chief. Traditionally, the Youth chief gets a deputy minister’s post, and one vacancy which the MCA is eyeing is the deputy tourism minister’s post.
Gerakan president Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik said the central working committee had given him the authority to draw up the party's list of names and submit it to the Prime Minister if there was a reshuffle.
Looking dicey is the position of Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Kerk Choo Ting, who lost his deputy president’s post in last year’s party polls.
MIC sources said party president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who is the only Cabinet minister from the party, is not expected to propose changes at the deputy ministers' level. The MIC has three deputy ministers.
Abdullah would, however, have to decide on the position of Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Joseph Salang. He was the Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak secretary-general but since the deregistration of PBDS, he has been left without a party.
“He is in an awkward position but his attempt to join Parti Bumiputra Bersatu seems to be fruitless. He could well lose his post because of the political uncertainty,” one analyst said.
Another PBDS leader Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun, who is a Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, has joined Parti Rakyat Sarawak.