Rumours of a cabinet reshuffle after the Chinese New Year in Malaysia and repeated denials by Anwar Ibrahim and PM Mahathir Mohamad of no rift between them. does it mean a deep secret could come to the fore in the coming weeks
A confusion arose within the government of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the ECRL project, giving the Barisan Nasional leaders a moment to poke fun at the new Malaysia regime.
But in the end, China stands to lose more than anyone else in this apparent rift within the Pakatan Harapan government.
Mohammed Hosnie Shahiran Ismail, Counselor of the Malaysian Embassy in China, went against the flow of criticism of Beijing on religious freedom and the freedom to practice religious activities.
Ignoring the many stories – a lot of them appeared in South China Morning Post – of bullying and attacks on Islam and the Muslims in China’s Muslim dominated province, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (a name abhorred by the Muslims in China).
Hosnie, perhaps attempting to remain in the good books of China, says, through the tour, he sees that the Chinese government attaches great importance to religious freedom, and religious activities are protected by the state.
The trip refreshed his understanding of Xinjiang, he says, adding the region is different from what Western media has portrayed. This event took place on Jan 9.
Despite Beijing’s efforts to calm down the Muslims by getting some Muslim officials to do the bidding for China, there is little the Xi Jin Ping government can do to salvage the deals made in Malaysia under the Najib Razak regime.
Nevertheless, after the loss in the Forest City deal – where Chinese citizens are not allowed to buy property – and the stranded High-Speed Rail project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, the Minister of Economy in Malaysia announced the cancellation of the ECRL project.
Economic Minister Azmin Ali made the headlines recently in a statement that pitted him against some Pakatan Harapan ministers including Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng on the ECRL. And this made public a simmering rift within the cabinet of Dr Mahathir.
On Saturday, Jan 26, Azmin unexpectedly announced the termination of the East Coast Rail Link project.
This shocked Lim Guan Eng and others in the Pakatan Harapan government. It came on the day the voters at Cameron Highlands was voting for the Barisan Nasional against a softened Pakatan Haparan.
Pakatan lost the elections while BN leaders had a good run trolling the ruling coalition on the ECRL.
Azmin said the cancellation was due to the high annual interest payment that the country would have incurred.
He said the Cabinet decided to cancel the project as the country could not afford the RM500 million annual interest on the project, but Lim Guan Eng’s reaction showed an obvious attempt by one (Azmin) or the other (Guan Eng) to politicise the issue.
The opposition asked how did the cabinet decide on an issue that took the Ministry of Finance by surprise? They demanded answers.
Lim was quoted on Jan 26 by Malaysian Gazette as saying that Azmin might “not have been informed” of certain matters previously decided by Dr Mahathir on the project, adding he that he would stick to Dr M’s position while refusing to enter into another crisis on whether Azmin Ali was at a cabinet meeting last Thursday.
The only relevant conclusion to this chaotic situation within the Pakatan Harapan is China has lost yet another project at the hands of the Pakatan Harapan, making it the second biggest loser of the May 9th elections after the Barisan Nasional and Najib Razak.
But a shaken Pakatan hides a deeply political play in the divided coalition. It also shows how Azmin is growing impatient in his attempt to hijack the highlight while the DAP was heading to an unsuspected defeat in Cameron Highlands.
Azmin’s move solidifies rumours of a cabinet shakeup after the Chinese New Year in February and if it were to happen, it would certainly be an interesting one.
Would Azmin’s head roll or would he be promoted instead to a higher post in the cabinet in what many are seeing as a potential thriller good for Hollywood?
But nothing indicates there will be an attempt by either the party of Dr Mahathir to cause a coup in the coalition nor of Azmin gaining an upper-hand against Anwar in a cabinet reshuffle.
The big loser could be the DAP. After losing the Cameron Highlands elections, the spat with Azmin could stall the entry of Lim Kit Siang in the cabinet.
Azmin – once seen as a blue-eyed boy of Anwar – turned-out to be a Dr Mahathir man says rumours. His announcement of the ECRL cancellation without Lim’s knowledge and Lim’s shocker (did he expect Azmin to seek his consent on this issue?) shows Azmin as an isolated political figure within the Pakatan, despite having some support from Mahathir’s Bersatu.
However, following intense campaigns by his son to entice Dr Mahathir to get Lim Kit Siang in the cabinet, coupled with the ICERD disaster – which was aided by comments and insensitive blog posts by Lim Kit Siang – the ECRL shock to Lim Guan Eng could have sunk both Azmin’s chance to climb higher in the cabinet and LGE’s chance to see his dad as a Minister.