From DAP’s sacrifice to Zafrul’s shameless royal lobbying for finance minister

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Zafrul’s biggest problem is his incompetence.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was scheduled to unveil his highly anticipated cabinet at 5pm on Friday (Dec 2). Media have been well prepared for the press conference. The PM, having met the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) for nearly an hour in the morning, had arrived at the administrative capital of Putrajaya – Perdana Putra – around 4.30pm, suggesting everything was in order.

Had there been complication or disagreement over the cabinet candidates, Anwar would not have gone to meet Sultan of Perak and his supporters in Tambun that day, where he received a rock star’s welcome. Something must have gone terribly wrong when the cabinet line-up announcement was postponed to 8:15pm. As suspected, something indeed went wrong.

The biggest surprise, as it turned out, was not the announcement of Barisan Nasional chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as one of two deputy prime ministers. His appointment, despite criticisms from activists, idealists and provocateurs, was a done deal after he easily quelled internal rebellion that could otherwise see religious extremist Perikatan Nasional forming the government instead.

The jaw-dropping announcement was the appointment of Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz as the Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI). Exactly how could PM Anwar appoint him, the same clueless and incompetent former finance minister who had served previously backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Ismail Sabri? Has Anwar Ibrahim gone mad?

Hours before the cabinet announcement, the rumour mill was churning about the return of Zafrul as Finance Minister again. Apparently, the underperforming former minister had lobbied – shamelessly – for the powerful portfolio using his royal connection. Even though he is the Selangor Barisan Nasional treasurer, not even Zahid wanted him to be part of the unity government.

Born with a silver spoon, Zafrul, thanks to his marriage to the great granddaughter of the fifth Sultan of Selangor, managed to climb up the corporate ladder largely due to his royal title “Tengku”. He was the chief executive of Malaysian banking group CIMB before he was handpicked and promoted by Muhyiddin as the Minister of Finance in March 2020 after a political coup.

Bernama

But Zafrul is also infamous for being the superstar singer in a music video for Najib’s 2018 Election Campaign. Instead of running the bank, Zafrul was one of 53 Chief Executives of GLCs (government-linked companies) who had shamelessly sung songs of praise for former PM Najib Razak, the crook who had misappropriated at least US$4.5 billion from 1MDB sovereign funds.

To make matters worse, Zafrul was reportedly linked to Muhyiddin’s family. Apparently, Zafrul’s younger brother, Tengku Zuhri Tengku Abdul Aziz, is married to Fara Nadia Abd Rahim, whose elder sister Fara Ikma Abd Rahim is married to Muhyiddin’s eldest son Fakhri Yassin. That was how Zafrul, besides his royal connection, was first appointed by Muhyiddin as Finance Minister in 2020.

However, Zafrul’s biggest problem is his incompetence. Despite burning RM305 billion in stimulus packages (equivalent to about 21% of the country’s GDP), Malaysia’s GDP shrunk 5.6% in 2020 – the worst since 1998 Asia Financial Crisis. In other words, without the stimulus, Malaysia’s 2020 GDP would have shrunk by 9.6% (the country’s economy contracted by only 6.7% during 1998 Crisis).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also released some humiliating figures. Despite Zafrul chest-thumping and self-praising, UNCTAD revealed that Malaysia was the worst performer in the region. Inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI) into Malaysia stunningly dropped by 68% from US$7.8 billion (RM31.5 billion) in 2019 to US$2.5 billion (RM10.1 billion) in 2020.

Adding salt to the wound, there were complaints that lazy Zafrul refused to meet with the European business chamber to discuss matters concerning commerce and trades. In denial, Zafrul had – hilariously – claimed that the country was on track to economic recovery, despite Fitch Ratings’ downgrade for Malaysia’s credit rating from A- to BBB+.

Burying his head in the sand, he refused to address Fitch’s criticisms of weak governance, corruption and enhanced debt under the Muhyiddin regime. During Sabri administration, as local currency Ringgit was in free fall to RM4.80, Finance Minister Zafrul said everything was under control and had no clue that imports and debts (ballooned to RM1.3 trillion) would suffer as a result of the stronger dollar.

After losing in the 15th General Election, it’s incredible that he has still has the cheek to demand to be returned to the finance ministry through backdoor – senatorship. This is the reason why Anwar, despite having said earlier that he would not consider holding the finance minister position, had no choice but to take the portfolio himself. Besides Zafrul, UMNO also fought for it.

Finance Twitter

The royal intervention had put the new prime minister in a very difficult position. After all, Zafrul could be Muhyiddin’s “proxy” sent to sabotage the unity government. The powerful finance ministry, fought between PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli and UMNO former second finance minister Johari Ghani, could fall into the wrong hands if Anwar did not decisively take control.

Still, you can bet your last penny that the lazy and incompetent Zafrul would once again screw up his new role as the Minister of International Trade and Industry. If he could not even negotiate with Goldman Sachs for a good settlement to resolve the 1MDB scandal, chances are he would not be able to strike any good deal with foreign countries in trade and commerce.

The ugly involvement of the royal house in bulldozing a job for Zafrul so that he won’t lose face somehow makes it easier to justify the appointment of Zahid as deputy prime minister. If a useless man like Zafrul can be appointed as a minister, why can’t Zahid? At least, Zahid has his value – ability to control the clowns in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) to support Anwar.

The fact that the new cabinet, totalling 28 ministers – four less than Muhyiddin’s and Ismail Sabri’s backdoor governments, but more than the 25 originally targeted – shows the delicate balance to ensure a stable and strong unity government. Anwar has to satisfy two biggest blocs – Barisan Nasional and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS), which contributed 30 MPs and 23 MPs, respectively.

Do you really think desperados Opposition Perikatan Nasional will not offer the deputy prime minister post to Zahid? It’s either Deputy PM Zahid in Anwar’s unity government or Deputy PM Hadi in Mahiaddin’s religious extremist government – pick your choice. Heck, power-hungry Mahiaddin has no problem creating 200 Deputy PMs if that’s what it takes for him to become prime minister again.

If Pakatan Harapan supporters cannot accept Zahid as Deputy PM, then they must be ready to accept the possibility that Zahid will be pressured to quit the unity government and support racist bigot Mahiaddin (Muhyiddin). Armchair critics conveniently forget that unlike the 2018 General Election, Pakatan Harapan did not win the 2022 General Election, therefore forcing them to share power.

Without kingmaker Barisan Nasional’s 30 MPs, neither Pakatan Harapan (82 MPs) nor Perikatan Nasional (73 MPs) can form a government. Angry Pakatan Harapan supporters should ask themselves why they didn’t win at least 112 MPs to form a new government on their own without having to give Deputy PM to Zahid, not to mention surrendering five additional ministries to Barisan Nasional.

Unlike four years ago, where PKR, DAP, Amanah and Bersatu (before Bersatu president Muhyiddin’s infamous “Sheraton Move” betrayal) shared the spoil of war among themselves, Pakatan Harapan’s 82 MPs translates to just 55% of the total 148 MPs participating in the unity government with two-thirds majority. They now need to share the cake with more strange bedfellows.

Not only Zahid was appointed Deputy PM, but he was also appointed Rural and Regional Development Minister. It was specifically designed in such way to help UMNO win back rural Malay voters, who had swung to Perikatan Nasional in droves. People who don’t understand this simple strategic move should go read the Romance of Three Kingdoms. Anwar needs to re-balance the power.

Anwar, and Pakatan Harapan for that matter, is lucky that UMNO still commands about 30% of the Malay vote bank. It would be game over if Perikatan Nasional successfully enticed 50% of Malay voters with racist bigotry, managing to swallow UMNO’s entire machinery and grassroots. Bersatu, formed to kill UMNO, is halfway in a reverse takeover of the Malay nationalist party.

Once Bersatu takes over UMNO, it will become a new UMNO with 100% dominance over the Malay community – only 100 times more corrupt, radical, parasitic, extremist and racist. This is not an exaggeration. Already, the Terengganu government, having fallen into the hands of Perikatan Nasional, has outlawed unisex hair salons or barbershops – whether operated by Muslims or non-Muslims.

Non-Muslims who whine, moan and bitch about Zahid as deputy prime minister should instead imagine this scenario – Hadi orders a total ban on lion dance, Chinese and Indian festivals, Christmas celebration, beer and alcoholic beverages, pork, entertainment centres like cinemas, short skirts, and even outlaws Chinese names or demands 70% ownership in all Chinese businesses.

Sure, Zahid is a bad guy because he is still facing 47 corruption charges. Do you really think the leaders of Sarawak-based GPS are clean and innocent? Even Sarawak Premier Abang Johari is just a proxy of Abdul Taib Mahmud, the most corrupt former Sarawak Chief Minister (1981-2014) who is now the “untouchable” Godfather in his capacity as the Governor.

Izzrafiq Alias/The Star

Besides, Zahid’s new position isn’t prestigious at all because the office of deputy prime minister is not provided for in the Constitution of Malaysia. It’s nice to have, but not necessary. However, in the case of UMNO, it is absolutely necessary to give the party president the position to prevent mutiny against Zahid, who has so far shown incredible support for Anwar.

UMNO deputy president “Tok Mat” Mohamad Hasan cannot be appointed as Deputy PM due to his dubious support for Pakatan Harapan. Compared with Zahid, he lacks grassroots support. Tok Mat could easily switch sides to Perikatan Nasional as he likes to play safe when it comes to tough decision. He is appointed defence minister to satisfy UMNO-Malay file and rank.

More importantly, Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) obediently follows UMNO direction, even after the Malay nationalist party suffers its worst defeat in history. So, “Gangster Zahid” does not only directly control 30 UMNO MPs, but indirectly controls 23 GPS MPs. Like it or not, without Zahid in charge of Barisan Nasional, it would be a challenge for Anwar to even negotiate with GPS.

People who hypocritically condemned Anwar for appointing Zahid could not explain why 50% Malays had voted Perikatan Nasional anyway, even though crooks like Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, Musa Aman, Ahmad Maslan, Abdul Latiff (brother of Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim) and Tengku Adnan were freed by the backdoor Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

And was it not during the Ismail Sabri administration, of which Perikatan Nasional was part of, that saw the acquittal of Zahid’s 40 corruption charges? How do you know that the Attorney General’s Chambers appointed by Muhyiddin would not also free Zahid of his remaining 47 charges? So, it’s acceptable for Mahiaddin to free crooks, but unacceptable for Anwar appoint a suspected crook?

The question should be asked why the backdoor administrations of Muhyiddin and Ismail Sabri failed to send Zahid to jail during its 33-month rule. Just because Zahid is made deputy PM does not mean he will escape prison under Anwar’s administration. If the judiciary system finds him guilty, it would be hard to keep him. For now, the UMNO president is innocent until proven guilty.

Still, is it fair that the Democratic Action Party (DAP) was given only four ministerial positions, although the party won a whopping 40 parliamentary seats? Why Anwar’s PKR party gets the lion’s share – eight ministries despite winning only 31 seats? How to justify six ministries for UMNO who won 30 seats? Even GPS with only 23 seats gets a staggering five ministers.

Finance Twitter

The answer can be found from DAP’s secretary-general Anthony Loke’s statement – willingness to “sacrifice everything” to help Anwar succeed as 10th Prime Minister. Meaning, even if the party gets zero ministry, it will still support the Pakatan Harapan leader unconditionally just to stop racist bigots like Muhyiddin and Hadi from destroying the country.

Pakatan Harapan’s 22-month rule after the 2018 General Election has shown that everyone would lose if DAP insisted on getting the finance minister post or other sensitive minister posts at a time when extremists Bersatu and PAS are actively stirring up racial and religious sentiments among the Malays that the Malay-Muslims have lost power to the “Chinese, Christians and Communists”.

Did anyone notice how the disappointed Hadi Awang suddenly lost all the ammunition to attack the Anwar administration as a Chinese-dominated government after the cabinet was unveiled? Even the once despicable Zahid has showered praises on DAP for prioritizing national interests more than party or individual interests, telling Muhyiddin to learn from DAP.

Surprisingly, Lokman Adam, Najib’s loudest cheerleader and one of UMNO’s biggest racist, has been actively promoting Chinese-majority DAP to the Malay audience on social media. What DAP fails to convince the Malays in over 60 years can be easily explained by the same UMNO leaders who are the specialists in the game. In fact, Lokman has suggested the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan alliance could continue beyond the next five years. – Finance Twitter