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Abdullah unveils a leaner Cabinet


March 19, 2008

Abdullah unveils a leaner Cabinet

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi shook up his Cabinet on Tuesday, slashing the number of Cabinet members to 27 from 32, dropping long-time trade minister Rafidah Aziz and appointing a pro-reform lawyer in his efforts to clean up the tainted judiciary.

Half of the posts went to new faces, “to better represent the people and to bring in a breath of fresh air,” Kyodo news agency quoted Abdullah as saying at a press conference.

Former Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin took over the International Trade and Industry Ministry, a post that Rafidah, the country's most well-known female politician, had held since 1987.

Her exclusion from the Cabinet list unveiled by Abdullah at the press conference, which was televised live, was the biggest surprise given that Rafidah also heads the ruling United Malay National Organization's women's wing.
Former Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar became home affairs minister, while Rais Yatim, who was formerly culture, arts and heritage minister, moved to the Foreign Ministry.

Among the technocrats in charge of the economy besides Abdullah is Nor Mohamed Yakcop, who remains as second finance minister. The sole non-politician in the Cabinet, former banker Amirsham A. Aziz, was appointed as minister in the Prime Minister's Department in charge of economic planning.

Others in the lineup "reflect the BN's power-sharing and consultation spirit," Abdullah said. As the dominant party in the 14-party ruling National Front coalition, UMNO, which won 78 seats in the lower house, has 22 ministers.

The Malaysian Chinese Association, the second biggest party, secured four ministerial posts while the Malaysian Indian Congress secured one.

The ministers will be sworn in before the king on Wednesday morning, after which the Cabinet will hold its first meeting. Abdullah told the official news agency Bernama that all ministers will be required to make public declarations of their assets for the first time.

Prime Minister Abdullah is under pressure from voters who showed in the March 8 election that they are prepared to back the opposition.  

The ruling National Front coalition, or BN, won 140 seats in the House of Representatives against the opposition's 82 seats. It is the first time since 1969 that the opposition has succeeded in breaching the BN's two-thirds majority in parliament. The opposition controls five of 13 states.

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