Although Anwar Ibrahim has stated that he has no desire for an immediate Cabinet position, two academics say it is in his best interest to be more directly involved in Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s administration.
James Chin of the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute said Anwar would remain politically weak by being outside the Cabinet.
“Portfolios are not important. What’s more important is ensuring he is in line to take over as prime minister,” Chin told FMT.
Mahathir has come under pressure to state when he will hand over power to Anwar as agreed by Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders before the 2018 general election.
Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia noted that Anwar’s only involvement in national policy and administration is by virtue of being a member of the PH presidential council as president of PKR.
Azmi said this position is insufficient for a prime minister-in-waiting, as Anwar has described himself, and suggested that he be given the post of education minister, considering his previous experience in that portfolio in the 1980s Mahathir government.
This comes as the current minister, Maszlee Malik, faces a barrage of criticism over various policy matters such as the use of black shoes by pupils and the introduction of Jawi calligraphy lessons at vernacular schools.
“By virtue of education being a very sensitive issue, I think we need a minister who is well experienced and respected by most quarters,” said Azmi. “So yes, Anwar is appropriate for the post.”
However PKR communications director Fahmi Fadzil sees no need for Anwar to take up a portfolio before succeeding Mahathir.
“The PM portfolio is already quite a lot of work; it should be enough,” Fahmi told FMT. “It’s what was promised and signed on Jan 7, 2018 by all top PH leaders.”
Disagreement about when Anwar will take over was highlighted last week when Mahathir said there was “no room” in the Cabinet for him, amid rumours of an impending Cabinet reshuffle.
Mahathir said: “Since nobody has indicated they want to resign, we have no vacancies. If we have a vacancy, we will consider suitable candidates.”
Anwar responded on Friday by saying he had never offered himself to be a member of the Cabinet, a stance he has maintained since he was elected MP for Port Dickson in October last year. Instead, he said, he would take over the prime ministership when the time is right.
However, Azmi said a Cabinet post for Anwar would help ensure a seamless change of power and allow the people to get used to Anwar’s style of governance.
“Having a portfolio will get him involved in running the country and ensure no hiccoughs or drastic changes after the change of baton occurs,” he said.
Azmi suggested that Anwar’s wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, relinquish her post as deputy prime minister so that her husband could resume the position by Mahathir’s side that he last held in the 1990s.
Anwar was removed from office in 1998 after a falling out with Mahathir, an event which sparked the Reformasi movement which eventually culminated in the formation of Pakatan Rakyat, now PH.
Azmi said Anwar’s taking over from Wan Azizah would show the people that Mahathir and Anwar were able to work together again. It would also allow PH to avoid having a husband-wife team at the top.
Wan Azizah, however, has dismissed talk of her making way for Anwar and has held firm to the succession plan. In response to Mahathir’s “no vacancy” remark, she retorted: “I guess (there will only be a vacancy) when the prime minister vacates the seat as promised.”
Mahathir has stated on numerous occasions that he will hand over power to Anwar as promised, but has set no time frame for when that will happen.