IT was quite a masterstroke on the part of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin not to appoint a deputy prime minister.
The debate about which party or who deserved the No 2 post in his Cabinet had been raging around Muhyiddin, and he decided to solve the problem by doing away with the post.
Sometimes, the simplest solution works best and this was certainly one instance.
Once again, Muhyiddin has shown that there is nothing like experience when it comes to the business of government and politics.
“The PM’s priority for now is a working and functional Cabinet because the issues the country are facing are serious, urgent and need immediate attention, ” said KRA strategic director Amir Fareed Rahim.
Muhyiddin’s Cabinet line-up basically puts into action the concerns and issues he had highlighted in his maiden speech to the nation last week.
He recognised the deep concerns that Malaysians have about corruption and the demand for greater integrity in government and he kept his word to keep out Umno leaders who are battling court cases for corruption and money laundering.
This was very important or else his Cabinet would have little credibility from the word go and his administration would come under attack from people who are still unhappy with what they regard as a “backdoor government”.
Umno president Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang had become the bogeymen for many people out there and it took a lot of political will to leave these two key figures out of the Cabinet.
The support of Sabah and Sarawak has become crucial to any group that wants to control Putrajaya and Muhyiddin’s government was made possible with the support of Gabungan Parti Sarawak.
He acknowledged the importance of these two states with the creation of a new portfolio for Sabah and Sarawak Affairs which comes under the Prime Minister’s Department.
“On the economic front, the PM has deftly balanced politics and performance by recognising the mercurial Datuk Seri Azmin Ali as a senior minister holding the International Trade and Industry portfolio and appointing a respected banker (Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz), who is well-liked by both sides, to lead the Finance Ministry.
“The appointment of Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamad means a safe and seasoned pair of hands in charge of economic planning.
“This triumvirate should work well in the face of the perfect storm ahead, ” said entrepreneur Datuk Omar Mustapha.
Muhyiddin also acknowledged the racial tensions and deterioration of race relations over the last two years by having a National Unity Ministry, unlike previously when the portfolio was held by a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
“He balanced the geographical and race factors quite well. He has taken the trouble to understand the sentiments on the ground, ” said a senior journalist.
This is the first time since the 1970s that PAS is in the Federal Government and Muhyiddin knows that everyone, especially the non-Malays, are concerned about the encroachment of religion into their everyday life and work.
“Everyone thought he would give PAS the religious affairs portfolio. I thought it was quite brilliant of him to put it in the hands of the Kuala Lumpur mufti (Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al Bakri). He took the politics out of the post, ” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.
PAS deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man was put in charge of the Environment Ministry.
The Cabinet comprises personalities with government experience, technocrats and new faces to be groomed for the future.
But it is also abundantly clear that Muhyiddin’s Cabinet is also about strengthening his party Bersatu.
His Cabinet comprises friends as well as rivals and he would want to check the strength and ambitions of the other two Malay partners in Perikatan Nasional, especially Umno which has the most number of MPs.
Important portfolios such as International Trade and Industry, Home, Communications and Multimedia, Education, Foreign Affairs and Economy went to Bersatu men.
His party is only the second biggest in the coalition but it will grow in clout if it controls important areas of government.
Although no deputy prime minister was appointed, Azmin who left PKR for Bersatu is seen by some as the de facto No 2.
Azmin is seen as a big winner and he is one of the four senior ministers – a newly introduced designation – named by Muhyiddin.
The senior ministers will probably oversee certain ministries and chair Cabinet committees which are normally done by the Deputy Prime Minister.
It is understood that Azmin will play the role of acting Prime Minister if Muhyiddin has to go abroad on work matters.
Moreover, as some suggested, the deputy prime minister post could be the incentive for any of the senior ministers if they stand out and perform well.
Muhyiddin’s Cabinet seems to have ticked all the required boxes and it is now up to those appointed to do their part.
They should learn from the shortcomings of the previous government and not put politics and rhetoric over work and duty.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.