KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Malaysia’s newly-appointed Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on Friday that he would also serve as the country’s finance minister, retaking a cabinet role he first held 30 years ago as he looks to address a slowing economy.
He also appointed Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who has been charged with graft, as a co-deputy prime minister, indicative of the need to appease coalition partners essential for the stability of his administration. Ahmad Zahid has denied the charges.
Anwar became premier last week, after a general election last month resulted in an unprecedented hung parliament. Anwar’s bloc did not win a simple majority but he formed a coalition government with the help of other political blocs.
“This cabinet is a cabinet of a unity government,” Anwar told a news conference. The ministers will be sworn in on Saturday, he said.
“We have set several basic principles: good governance, spurring the economy, and reducing the people’s burden in terms of living costs.”
His new deputy premier Ahmad Zahid is on trial over 47 charges of bribery, money laundering and criminal breach of trust. Ahmad Zahid has pleaded not guilty.
Zahid leads the Barisan Nasional alliance – Malaysia’s long-dominant political bloc that is now unpopular due to corruption allegations against its leaders. Barisan came in third in the polls but its support was essential for Anwar to gain parliamentary majority.
Fadillah Yusof, another key coalition partner, was also named as a deputy prime minister.
Key portfolios including foreign and trade ministries were allocated to coalition partners.
Anwar’s cabinet also features many new faces, including Rafizi Ramli, the deputy president of his party, who was named economy minister.
Check and balance
Investors have cheered Anwar’s appointment as prime minister, hoping that he can bring stability after a period of political uncertainty that saw three prime ministers in as many years.
Anwar’s appointment capped a three-decade political journey from a protege of veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad to protest leader, a prisoner convicted of sodomy and opposition leader.
Anwar was appointed as finance minister in 1991 by the then prime minister, Mahathir, and later became deputy premier.
He was fired in 1998 after the two disagreed over how to respond to a financial crisis across Asia, and subsequently jailed on sodomy and corruption charges – accusations that Anwar maintains were aimed at ending his political career.
Critics have cautioned against Malaysia’s premier also holding the finance portfolio, in order to ensure proper check-and-balance mechanisms and avoid a repeat of a multibillion-dollar graft scandal that erupted under former prime minister Najib Razak.
Najib held the finance portfolio during his premiership in 2009-2018. During that tenure, he co-founded 1MDB, a state fund from which some $4.5 billion were allegedly stolen between 2009 and 2014, according to U.S. prosecutors.
Najib is now in jail for graft over the 1MDB scandal.