PRIME Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is giving Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali wide powers over critical government-linked companies which are collectively worth more than RM1 trillion to neutralise the influence of Anwar Ibrahim, the Straits Times reports. The Singapore daily news outlet said the PM’s latest move to empower Azmin could trigger rivalries within Harapan component parties and to neutralise the influence of de facto PKR leader Anwar. This move could strengthen Azmin’s position while checking Anwar’s within PKR, of which Anwar is the de facto leader. Azmin and PKR colleague Zuraida Kamaruddin, who is housing and local government minister, are said to be members of rival camp against Anwar and his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Quoting sources, the report said the Economic Affairs portfolio oversees sovereign wealth funds Permodalan Nasional Bhd and Khazanah Nasional Bhd, as well as national oil company Petronas. The three companies with an estimated worth of RM1 trillion were previously the purview of Ministry of Finance Inc during the Barisan Nasional administration. There is also talk that agencies in charge of Malay/Muslim welfare, such as the Tabung Haji and Felda will be placed under Azmin’s ministry, the report said. The Prime Minister’s Department currently oversees Felda and Tabung Haji. Both had been marred by various high-profile scandals during the tenure of former premier Najib Abdul Razak. “The scope is so wide that earlier plans to place International Trade and Industry under MEA (the Ministry of Economic Affairs) will likely be ditched,” a source familiar with the restructuring was quoted as saying. The report claimed that Mahathir had made a “huge gesture” by giving Azmin the economic affairs portfolio. This was because the transfer of Petronas, Khazanah and over 60 other companies currently under the purview of the Minister of Finance Inc would be a complex process that possibly required legal amendments that were approved by Parliament. “The manoeuvres by Dr Mahathir, who fended off several challenges to his leadership during his first tenure as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, are seen as just another strategy from the 92-year-old’s “divide-and-conquer playbook” said the report.
Dr Mahathir heads the government after May 9. His party Bersatu won 13 parliamentary seats while PKR holds 49 seats – the most number of seats among Harapan component parties. Both parties are components of the Pakatan Harapan. The report said Azmin had been appointed to the key ministerial post despite PKR’s bid for one of four top portfolios – finance, home affairs, defence or education – being rebuffed during the early stages of negotiations. According to the report, Mahathir’s move to empower Azmin had subsequently triggered alarm bells among Anwar’s supporters. PKR president Wan Azizah Wan Ismail was named deputy prime minister but the party was left out when it came to the education, finance, defence and home affairs portfolios, all of which are senior ministries, the paper said. It also alleged that Azmin and Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin are part of a rival faction within PKR who are facing off against Anwar and his wife, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Anwar himself had earlier this week, in his first official meeting with PKR leaders since being freed from prison, reminded them to throw their full support behind Mahathir’s administration. Since his release from prison, Anwar has become the intermediary between the new government and the Malay rulers who still have some say in the filling of key institutional posts. Anwar has said that his meetings with the Malay rulers had been held to explain to them government policies and to debunk fears the PH administration would sideline the sultans and the Malays.
Anwar has also refuted claims he is secretly undermining the work of the prime minister, which many believe had occurred the first time the two of them were in Umno and the cabinet, when Dr Mahathir was PM and he was DPM. There is no falling out between Anwar Ibrahim and Mohamed Azmin Ali, commenting by PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail on the report by Singapore’s The Straits Times. The deputy prime minister refuted claims that there are camps in the party, and reiterated that PKR is united. “I don’t think there is a rift. As I’ve said, we are in one camp,” she told reporters after breaking fast at Dataran Merdeka. It was rumoured that both Azmin and PKR colleague Zuraida Kamaruddin, who is housing and local government minister, are said to be members of a camp rivalling Anwar and his wife, Dr Wan Azizah. Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Pandan MP, said despite Azmin’s name not being submitted by the party for a cabinet position, the choice of ministers is Dr Mahathir’s prerogative.
“There is nothing wrong with this,” she said, referring to Azmin being named as economic affairs minister.