Malaysian PM Anwar to become finance minister in the new Cabinet

KUALA LUMPUR. Malaysia (AP) — New Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said Friday he will also serve as finance minister as he unveiled a leaner Cabinet with many new faces in his unity government.

In a move that appeared to contradict his anti-corruption platform, Anwar named the graft-tainted head of a smaller bloc as one of his two deputies.

Malaysian politics took an unprecedented turn after a Nov. 19 general elections failed to produce an outright winner. Anwar’s Alliance of Hope led with 82 seats but fell short of the 112 needed for a majority, while an Islamic nationalist bloc won a surprising 73 seats.

Malaysia’s king. who appointed the lawmaker he believes has majority support as prime minister, later named Anwar as the country’s 10th leader, ending days of uncertainty.

Anwar, 75, later won the backing of his traditional rival, the National Front, and a bloc from two states on Borneo island to secure a majority. He was sworn in a week ago.

He must work now to ensure his new government is stable. Malaysia has been rocked by political turmoil that has seen three prime ministers in the last four years.

The new Cabinet reflects the compromises that Anwar has made. He named National Front chief Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is battling graft charges, and a Borneo leader, Fadillah Yusof, as his deputy. Zambry Abdul Kadir, secretary-general of the National Front, was named foreign minister.

Analysts say Zahid’s appointment is crucial to ensure support from the long-ruling National Front, led by his United Malays National Organization. Zahid played a key role in getting UMNO, which has been split, to support Anwar’s unity government.

“Zahid’s appointment will stain Anwar’s government, but at this point, the survival of his government by retaining UMNO support is paramount,” said Oh Ei Sun of Singapore’s Institute of International Affairs. He said it was surprising that Anwar took on the finance portfolio.

Anwar, a former finance minister in the 1990s, said at a news conference that he would handle finance for now because he wanted to revamp the system and revive confidence in the economy.

His Cabinet has 28 ministers, four fewer than the previous government. A majority are Malay. He hasn’t named deputy ministers yet.

“The priority of the unity government is to ensure good governance and find steps to ease the burden on the people,” Anwar said.

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