(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): I congratulate Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on being appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister and hope that he can make a difference in the quality of governance in Malaysia.
Badawiís appointment as Deputy Prime Minister and the reappointment of Tun Daim Zainuddin as Finance Minister have not come as a surprise.
I had discounted the speculation that Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah would be appointed as Deputy Prime Minister for two reasons: firstly, the UMNO tradition and precedent that in the event of a vacancy in the post of Deputy Prime Minister, it should be filled from the ranks of the UMNO Vice Presidents. Mahathir helped to establish this precedent in 1976 when he and two other UMNO Vice Presidents, Ghafar Baba and Tengku Razaleigh made it very clear to Hussein Onn, who took over as Prime Minister following the death of Tun Razak, that he must choose from one of the three UMNO Vice Presidents and not others like Ghazalie Shafie who was being considered.
The second reason is that although Mahathir is one who does not regard himself as bound by traditions and conventions, whether party or parliamentary, his freedom of manoeuvre to defy this tradition is limited as his position among the UMNO rank-and-file is probably the weakest in his 18 years as UMNO President as a result of the Anwar Ibrahim "earthquake" in UMNO and Malay society.
Mahathir has also other reasons which did not make it likely that Mahathirís choice of the Deputy Prime Minister would be Razaleigh, despite the Prime Ministerís rare appearance at Razaleighís residence in Kuala Lumpur last Monday to break fast.
What is really surprising is Mahathirís relinquishing the Home Ministryís post, which he had held for 13 years, since the resignation of his first Deputy Prime Minister, Musa Hitam, who was the only other Home Minister since 1981.
If not for the national and international outrage over the statement by the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah last Tuesday, Mahathir may not have relinquished the Home Ministryís portfolio.
The Attorney-Generalís statement, however, compounded the scandal of a former Deputy Prime Minister being assaulted while under police custody, by telling Malaysians and the world that there is such lawlessness and unaccountability in the very inner sanctum of the Malaysian Police High Command that police investigations still could not identify three-and-a-half months later the police person or persons responsible for the police brutalities.
Mahathir should realise however that as the Home Minister when Anwar was assaulted while under police custody, he cannot completely distance himself from responsibility for the lawlessness in the very inner sanctum of the Police High Command at Bukit Aman.
This is why the resignation of Tan Sri Rahim Noor as Inspector-General of Police to assume full responsibility for the injuries suffered by Anwar while under police custody could not pacify or appease demands for accountability unless and until the police person or persons who assaulted Anwar had been identified and brought to justice. Otherwise, Rahim Noorís resignation would not be seen as "assuming" but evading responsibility for the crimes perpetrated on Anwar Ibrahim while under police custody.
As Deputy Prime Minister and the new Home Minister, Badawiís greatest test is whether he could persuade Mahathir to start the process of national healing, restore public confidence in the integrity and professionalism of institutions of government and usher in an era of greater openness and accountability with more democratic space.
The important institutions and instruments of government which have recently suffered unprecedented crisis of confidence come directly under the purview of the Home Ministry or the Prime Ministerís Department, and Badawi should set out in his new duties to firmly uphold accountability, transparency and good governance.
Badawi can start with two measures: firstly, get the agreement of Mahathir for the immediate establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Anwarís "black eye" and other injuries while under police custody as well as all incidents of police lawlessness and abuses of power; and secondly, creation of a Home Ministry with a human face.
While Daimís re-appointment as Finance Minister is not a real surprise, his retention as Minister with Special Functions raises the question as to whether Daim has now become the open Super-Minister in Mahathirís Cabinet - or de facto the second Prime Minister