Malaysia’s new prime minister Najib Razak unveiled a new-look Cabinet yesterday, retaining his control on the finance portfolio and ejecting figures seen as loyal to his predecessor, while two policemen were sentenced to death for killing a Mongolian woman.
The number of Cabinet ministers was cut to 28 from 32 and several ministries were amalgamated.
In a wide-ranging shake-up, former trade minister Muhyiddin Yassin who was elected deputy of the ruling party UMNO last week, was promoted to the key post of deputy prime minister and also given the education portfolio.
The trade ministry is now helmed by Mustapa Mohamed, a trained economist who served as agriculture minister in the last administration. His deputy is Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The defense portfolio goes to Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, a close ally of Najib and one of the newly appointed vice-presidents of UMNO.
Foreign Minister Rais Yatin was shifted to the newly created ministry of information, communications, arts and culture, and replaced by Anifah Aman, a backbencher from Sabah state on Borneo island.
Several figures seen as loyal to former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who Najib took over from last week, were dropped including Rural Affairs minister Muhammad Muhammad Taib and Home minister Syed Hamid Albar.
There was a snub for Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin, who won the influential post of UMNO youth chief last week. Traditionally the youth chief sits in the Cabinet, but he was omitted from Najib’s new line-up.
Meanwhile, two Malaysian policemen were sentenced to death yesterday for the murder of Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu, in a sensational case the opposition has tried to link with the new prime minister.
Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Najib, had been accused of ordering police to kill his former lover after she came to his family home to harass him for money.
But last year he was acquitted of abetting the 2006 slaying of the 28-year-old model and interpreter — a case which, with its ingredients of sex, politics and violence, has captivated the nation.
Altantuya’s body was blown up with military-grade explosives in a jungle clearing, leaving only shattered bone fragments as evidence.
The two officers found guilty of the murder, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, are from an elite unit that guards the prime minister and deputy prime minister.
“Each of them are blaming the other, they failed to raise reasonable doubt against the prosecution’s case. I convict both of you as charged,” Shah Alam High Court judge Zaki Mohamad Yasin said.
“I sentence both of you to death. You will be taken to a place of execution where you will be hanged by your neck until you are dead,” he said.
Malaysia’s top blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin has been charged with sedition after repeatedly linked Najib and his wife to the murder on his popular Web site Malaysia Today.
Najib has vehemently denied any involvement in the killing and said he never even met Altantuya, but despite any evidence linking him to the case, the allegations persist and the opposition has called for an official inquiry.