More a responsibility than reward: Malaysia's deputy PM

More a responsibility than reward: Malaysia's deputy PM
A new deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi speaking to media in Putrajaya.
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

THE first thing Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi did after it was announced that he is taking over as Deputy Prime Minister following a Cabinet reshuffle was to perform sujud syukur (prostrate in gratitude).

He is known to be a pious, God-fearing man and views his elevation to the Number Two post in the Government not as a reward but more of a heavy responsibility.

While he may be thankful for the promotion, he believes it does not warrant a celebration, especially when his predecessor Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was removed amid a cloud of controversy.

In fact, he is not even in a rush to move into the Deputy Prime Minister's office at the west wing of the Prime Minister's Office in Perdana Putra.

"There will be no celebration, not even a kenduri kesyukuran. Not at my Bagan Datoh constituency nor will I host one at home. As I have mentioned, this (promotion) is a responsibility, not a reward," he says in an interview with The Star.

We met him on his second day as DPM and Dr Ahmad Zahid appeared to still be in shock.

"I was informed that the Prime Minister wanted to see me at 1.30pm on Tuesday. I only knew about the appointment when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced it to the media. The only hint I got from the Prime Minister was when he told me to assist him," recalls Dr Ahmad Zahid.

He is still adjusting to how people are addressing him - Yang Amat Berhormat TPM (the Right Honourable Deputy Prime Minister) - and the larger security detail escorting him, but to his family, the new post spells one thing - they will soon see even less of him.

"My family wants me to spend a lot of time with them. It looks like I will not be able to with this new responsibility. My wife reminds me that I must not dissappoint Datuk Seri Najib," he says.

The 62-year-old and his wife, Datin Seri Hamidah Khamis, have five children and are blessed with seven grandchildren.

While Muhyiddin's removal caught many people off-guard, the decision to replace him with Dr Ahmad Zahid is hardly a surprise.

After all, he is the most senior Umno vice-president and received the highest vote in the 2013 party elections.

Dr Ahmad Zahid and the Prime Minister also go back a long way. He served as political secretary when Najib was Defence Minister as well as Youth and Sports Minister.

With the current scenario, there is no chance for the newly-minted Deputy Prime Minister to take his own sweet time to settle in. Nor can he afford to let the shock over Muhyiddin's removal to subside before he gets down to work.

He needs to take on his role and duties as the Number Two immediately.

"I have some ideas and plans on what I should do but I can't share anything with you for now. But one of the things that I want to do is to help the Prime Minister in executing the Government's agendas and transformation plans. The people have high expectations and they want to see the results of our policies.

"At the same time, effort must be made to regain the people's trust in the Government. These goals are not impossible but efforts must be continuous and consistent," he says.

Although he has taken over Muhyiddin's job, Dr Ahmad Zahid believes there is no awkwardness between them.

While he is now the Deputy Prime Minister, Muhyiddin, who is Umno's deputy president, is still his boss in the party.

This will not be the first time Umno is in this unique situation.

There was a time during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's premiership and presidency when Tun Musa Hitam was the deputy president of the party but no longer served as Deputy Prime Minister, a post held by the then Umno vice-president Tun Ghafar Baba.

"I am still in touch with Muhyiddin. In fact, he called to congratulate me. I'm humbled and touched by the gesture. I told him that Allah is testing us. He told me he accepts what has happened as fate. Tan Sri Muhyiddin is a true statesman," reveals Dr Ahmad Zahid.

The Umno vice-president is confident that the removal of Muhyiddin will not split Umno, especially when the Pagoh MP himself has publicly spoken about his loyalty to the party after his removal.

"There will always be rumblings but I hope it is only temporary. We need to strengthen party unity because we cannot face our enemies if the party is weak and broken," he points out.

It will be interesting to see how Dr Ahmad Zahid's relationship with the other two vice-presidents - Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal and Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein - evolves after this.

The trio has been together since their Umno Youth days back in the 1980s and as Dr Ahmad Zahid puts it, they have been through thick and thin.

And now, their relationship will be somewhat tested as they are no longer peers. One of them is now the boss.

To this, Dr Ahmad Zahid says: "It is unfortunate that the Number Two post is only one. I didn't beat anyone for this position but was given the opportunity. Shafie and Hishammuddin are still my peers."

He says he has not been in contact with Shafie since he was removed as Rural and Regional Development Minister and understands if his friend is hurt and slighted over what has happened.

Dr Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, denies that the Cabinet reshuffle is to ensure that everyone is in sync with the Prime Minister on the 1MDB issue.

"This is not to divert attention. This is about problem solving, to better diverse the composition of the Cabinet.

"People are questioning why members of the Public Accounts Committee have been appointed into the Government. I think the Prime Minister is not doing justice if these capable people are denied the opportunity to be part of his team," says Dr Ahmad Zahid.

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