(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The latest Cabinet reshuffle is not to "strengthen government machinery" as claimed by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad but a sign that the Prime Minister has realised that more efforts are needed to face the challenge posed by KeADILan and the Opposition to break the Barisan Nasional political hegemony in the next general election.
If the sole purpose of the Cabinet reshuffle is to "strengthen government machinery" , then more Cabinet Ministers have to be dropped, in particular the Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, who has during his tenure been responsible for two worst viral outbreak disasters causing an unprecedented death toll - the so-called Coxsackie B virus epidemic in Sarawak in 1997 which killed 42 people and the current Nipah virus epidemic which have killed more than 100 people and destroyed the RM2.5 billion pig farming and pork industry, with the Health Minister still maintaining the fiction that the country is facing an Japanese encephalitis (JE) outbreak!
Different theories have been advanced for the dropping of Datuk Seri Sabbaruddin Chik as Tourism Minister and Datuk Seri Mohamed Rahmat as Information Minister, including the view that Mohamad Rahmat is being punished for questioning the racial ancestry of Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail, wife of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Again, if Mohamad Rahmat is being punished for making outrageous statements, many other loyalist UMNO Ministers will also have to be dropped. So far, Mahathir loyalists have enjoyed immunity whether for incompetence, ineptitude or even when they are targets of numerous scandalous allegations.
I think the real reason for the Cabinet reshuffle was Mahathirís realisation that UMNO is not making political headway in the political challenge posed by KeADILan and the Opposition, and the urgent need for a dynamic UMNO Secretary-General to plan and spearhead a counter-offensive to wrest the political initiative from the Opposition.
It is a reflection of the poverty of UMNO leadership material at the national level that Mahathir had to go to the states to bring in Tan Sri Khalil Yaacob to be the new UMNO Secretary-General. With this decision, a fairly senior Cabinet position - clearly not the lowly position of Minister for Culture, Tourism and Arts - had also to be given to Khalili, who was already Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department before he was sent down to Pahang 13 years ago as Mentri Besar.
This is Mohamad Rahmatís final contribution, to give way for Khalil as he had outlived his usefulness to the Barisan Nasional government. His retention of the post of Barisan Nasional Secretary-General only illustrates the insignificance of this post in the larger scheme of things.