By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak finalized his new cabinet on Thursday, a lineup expected to be smaller than before with many new faces as he embarks on an ambitious reform program.
Najib, who took office on Friday, met with the constitutional monarch to show him the list of ministers he has picked, completing a formality before announcing the names later Thursday.
The ministers will be sworn in on Friday before Najib flies to Thailand for a regional summit.
In choosing the ministers, Malaysian prime ministers have to be mindful of giving an equitable share to the ethnic Chinese and Indian parties in the National Front ruling coalition. But most ministers are from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the main party in the coalition that seeks to represent the majority Malays of the country.
During the past week, Najib met with the leaders of all component parties in the Front.
Local news reports have speculated that Najib will reduce the number of ministries from 27 to a little over 20. He is likely to merge some ministries to achieve that.
Malaysiakini, an independent online news Web site, said Najib is expected to remain the finance minister to head an economic team to deal with looming recession.
As many as 15 ministers could be new, according to the Malaysian Insider, another independent online newspaper with established sources in the government. Among the old names, one certainty is that Najib’s right-hand man, International Trade and Industry Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, will be appointed deputy prime minister.
Najib has promised a host of administrative and social reforms, a task his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi failed to achieve despite initial efforts when he took office in October 2003.
Badawi was forced to step down last month by the ruling party following heavy election losses last year. Najib has warned that the party as well as the government is seen by the public as corrupt and venal, and needs to clean up its act if it wants to return to power in the next elections.
“The criteria for the new lineup are they must have university degrees and are not seen as having any political baggage or corrupt,” the Malaysian Insider said. “However, most UMNO and (National Front) politicians are seen as ... corrupt, leaving Najib with very few options.”