Do we really still need a council of elders?

Opinion  |  P Gunasegaram
Published:  |  Modified:

QUESTION TIME | On May 11, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was sworn in at 9.30pm a day earlier as prime minister following the May 9 elections, announced a rather abbreviated list of key cabinet ministers which included just three others besides himself - Bersatu’s Muhyiddin Yassin as home minister, DAP’s Lim Guan Eng as finance minister and Amanah’s Mohamad Sabu for defence.

Conspicuous by absence was any minister from PKR, the largest partner in the new ruling coalition with 48 seats, compared to 42 for DAP, 13 for Mahathir’s Bersatu and 11 for Amanah, indicating a schism already developing between Mahathir and PKR.

It will be two days later and after a meeting between Mahathir and de facto PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim before the latter’s wife, Wan Azizah Ismail was picked as deputy prime minister.

Simultaneously, Mahathir announced a council of elders, which came to be known formally as the Council of Eminent Persons, headed by his old friend, the rather controversial former finance minister and Umno treasurer Daim Zainuddin.

It included as its members business tycoon Robert Kuok, former Bank Negara Malaysia governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas CEO Hassan Merican and prominent economist Jomo Sundaram.

That sequence of events indicated that Mahathir was prepared to go it alone if he had to and the appointment of the council of elders probably came as surprise to the other parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition, especially PKR who was already unhappy with losing the finance ministry to DAP on top of not being consulted.

Now here was a Jedi-like council which was going to hear representations from others and make recommendations. In Mahathir’s words at the press conference, these people (the council) will study a lot of things submitted to them from (events dating back to) 2009 until now because “we want to take action if necessary as quickly as possible. One thing we think is very important is the Ministry of Finance and Defence - we need to have them focus on that, and later Home Affairs have to be advised on what they need to know. That is the decision we have reached this evening.”...

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