Malaysia's Najib unveils new Cabinet after bruising election

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak unveiled his new Cabinet on Wednesday that he hoped wins back public confidence after his coalition won the national election but with a reduced vote.

Touted as a "transformational Cabinet," the line-up, he said, includes "the experienced, the technocrats and those that represent the youth."

Najib's ruling 13-party National Front coalition, popularly known as BN, won 133 of 222 seats in the federal Parliament, extending its 56-year rule for another five years in the general election 10 days ago.

The opposition obtained 89 seats in parliament, up from 82 in the 2008 election. However, BN saw its share of the popular vote fall to 47 percent versus the 51 percent obtained by the opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim.

It was the worst result in BN's history which has traditionally controlled two-thirds of the Parliament.

Najib took over from former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in April 2009 after the latter was forced to resign following the 2008 general election, which saw BN lose its two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time. But BN still maintained over 50 percent of the popular vote then.

Besides losing the popular vote, Najib is also under pressure as the opposition refused to acknowledge the results amid accusations of vote-rigging. They have launched a nationwide campaign to garner popular support to denounce the legitimacy of his government.

"The new Cabinet will be responsible for delivering transformation in Malaysia and continuing the economic and political reforms that began four years ago," Najib said.

"The new ministers bring both the measured calm of experience and the vibrant energy of new ideas; a grounding in anti-corruption and human rights law and an appreciation for the dynamism of the private sector," he added.

Despite critics' call for him to reduce the size of his Cabinet, Najib maintained the number of ministries at 24 with 30 ministers, one more minister than his previous Cabinet and 27 deputy ministers.

Among the notable new faces are Khairy Jamaluddin, an articulate and media savvy 37-year-old who is heading the Youth and Sports Ministry, Abdul Wahid Omar, chief executive of Maybank Berhad, the country's biggest banking group, as one of the eight ministers in the Prime Minister's Department.

Corruption has been a key issue in the election. Mindful of this, Najib has appointed Paul Low, president of Transparency International's Malaysian chapter, as another minister in the Prime Minister's Department.

Transparency International is a Berlin-based corruption watchdog. According to its annual Corruption Perception Index which measures the perceived level of public sector corruption in 176 countries, Malaysia was ranked 54th last year.

One surprise inclusion in the list was the appointment of Waytha Moorthy Ponnusamy as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department. Moorthy was the head of the Hindu Rights Action Force of Hindraf, a right-wing movement championing equal rights for ethnic Indians, who make up some 10 percent of the country's 29 million population.

Hindraf became infamous for rallying tens of thousands of Indians into the streets in 2007 demanding an end to the state-backed pro-Malay affirmative action policy. The government then deemed it an illegal organization and several leaders were detained.

Hindraf was instrumental in turning the Indian vote against BN in the 2008 election. Moorthy, who avoided arrest in 2007 by fleeing to Britain, pledged his support for Najib just before the May 5 election.

In other key posts, Najib continues to hold on to the finance portfolio, with Ahmad Husni Mohamad Hanadzlah serving as the second finance minister. Mustapa Mohamaed remains the international trade and industry minister, while Anifah Aman stays on as foreign minister.