KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak expanded his Cabinet with six appointments drawn from Chinese parties in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), in a move to increase minority representation in the government.
Mr Liow Tiong Lai, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), became Transport Minister, taking over from Acting Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong and Gerakan president Mah Siew Keong were appointed ministers in the PM's Department.
Three MCA vice-presidents became deputy ministers: Mr Lee Chee Leong in the International Trade and Industry Ministry; Mr Chua Tee Yong (Finance); and Ms Chew Mei Fun (Women, Family and Community Development).
All had previously been ministers or deputy ministers.
Yesterday's appointments allowed the MCA to take up its existing quota of posts, after a year's absence from the government. It had pledged to stay out of the Cabinet if it fared worse in the 2013 general election but reversed the decision in February.
Mr Mah won the Teluk Intan by-election in May, wresting the seat back from the opposition Democratic Action Party.
Despite widespread speculation of a major Cabinet overhaul, no other changes were made and no incumbent was dropped. This was the first reshuffle since Datuk Seri Najib began his second term of office last year.
"Today's Cabinet appointments reflect our long-held desire to govern in an inclusive and representative manner: a government made up of all Malaysians, that governs for all Malaysians," he said in a statement yesterday.
It was crucial the parties representing minority communities take their "rightful place at the heart of government", he added.
Asked about the expanded 35- member Cabinet, the Prime Minister said it was unavoidable.
"We had to make adjustments based on MCA's decision. At first, they said they didn't want to be in the (Cabinet), but then they reviewed this and saw the need to join the government."
Mr Najib said the government had intended to make the appointments earlier but its attention had been focused on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 since March. It has yet to be decided if Mr Liow will take over responsibility for the search from Mr Hishammuddin, who is Defence Minister.
The move received a lukewarm response as it was seen as a seat- filling exercise that did not do a lot to rejuvenate a leadership struggling to cope with rising racial and religious tensions. Former newspaper editor A. Kadir Jasin wrote in his blog that Mr Najib had added three more Chinese ministers "in line with his policy of appeasement towards the Chinese, making everybody happy and keeping things big".
Political analyst Ibrahim Suffian, who runs the independent Merdeka Centre, said that while it had long been expected that the MCA and Gerakan would be included in the Cabinet, it was uncertain if the new appointees would make any real difference.
While Mr Najib has stated he wants more diverse views in Cabinet, the Chinese community will remain sceptical unless the new appointees carry out their new roles with originality and latitude, said Mr Ibrahim. He said none has a track record of note.
Chinese voter support for the BN hit a new low last year, and has shown no sign of improving as racial ties continue to fray and squabbles flare up frequently.
This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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