Mahahtir’s “passing the buck” to Abdullah has given Liong Sik’s Ministership  a nine-month reprieve

Media Statement
Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Yesterday  the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made three statements about the Cabinet, viz: that  

  • there will not be any Cabinet reshuffle before he steps down in October;
  • there is no need for the Cabinet to resign with him when he retires; and
  • the position of MCA President and Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, who had tendered an undated letter of resignation last August 15 to Mahathir is to be decided by Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he takes over the country’s leadership.

Mahathir’s statement is significant for at least two reasons:

Firstly, he  has backed down from his stand in  Alor Gajah, Malacca the previous Thursday, 30th January,  that elected representatives holding government posts, including Cabinet Ministers, should be prepared to make way for a new team when Abdullah takes over as Prime Minister.   

Mahathir had said: "I said resign so as to leave it to the new leader to pick his man. He may retain the same person or he may choose another person. That is his right.”  

Secondly, by “passing the buck” to Abdullah on Liong Sik’s undated resignation letter, he has given the MCA President a nine-month reprieve as well as handled the “hot potato” of Ling’s political future to his successor, although Abdullah must have wished that the least Mahathir could have done is to take Ling with him on his retirement in October. 

Mahathir’s backing down from his Alor Gajah statement that Cabinet Ministers should be prepared to resign to make way for a new team when Abdullah takes over as Prime Minister, although Abullah may retain the same person, can only mean that the proper and constitutional idea of Mahathir’s last Cabinet resigning with him in October has evoked fierce resistance and opposition among the current crop of Cabinet Ministers  -  as seen from the public disagreements  of two Cabinet Ministers,  MIC President and Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu and the UMNO Youth leader and Youth and Sports Minister, Datuk Hishammuddin  Tun Hussein to the proposal by the Gerakan President and Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik that all Cabinet Ministers should collectively resign with Mahathir in October. 

This may be why Mahathir had given the tongue-in-cheek illustration that there is no need for Cabinet members to tender their resignation when he steps down in October, saying: "If I choose to jump into the sea, there is no need for others to follow ...let me jump by myself." 

Although Mahathir said that there is no practice in Malaysia that  a Cabinet should also by convention be dissolved when the chief executive steps down, the pertinent issue is what should be the proper constitutional practice stemming from Article 43 of the Malaysian Constitution on the appointments of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. 

I agree with the former Federal Court judge and International Islamic University law don Tan Sri Harun Hashim who wrote in yesterday’s New Straits Times “Benchmark” column, entitled “When PM resigns, entire Cabinet should quit”: “It should be parliamentary practice when the PM resigns or dies, the entire Cabinet resigns.” 

The question is why the entirely proper and constitutional proposition that Mahathir’s last Cabinet should resign or be regarded as having ceased to exist when Mahathir retires in October, leaving to Abdullah to appoint his first Cabinet, which could be the very same Cabinet composition minus Mahathir, should meet with  such powerful resistance and opposition from the current crop of Cabinet members. 

There could only be one explanation – many Cabinet Ministers know that they have long passed their shelf-life of usefulness of being able to continue to make sterling contribution to  the development and well-being of the people and country.  Only deadwoods in the Cabinet could conceivably oppose  the proper and  constitutional notion and practice that when the Prime Minister resigns or dies, his entire Cabinet resigns automatically, as they have no confidence of re-appointment on pure merit and past performance. 

This is why I disagree with Abdullah who on Sunday  advised all  Barisan Nasional leaders to stop discussing the new Cabinet line-up when he takes over from Mahathir in October, that there is still a lot of work to do, saying: “When the time comes, we will think of the other things." 

The time Abdullah should think of his new Cabinet is not when he takes over from Mahathir as the fifth Prime Minister in less than nine month’s time in October, but now, especially as it would be his first  test of Prime Ministerial leadership. 

Furthermore, as Abdullah’s first Cabinet is a matter which does not concern merely Abdullah or the Barisan Nasional but the people and nation, it is in the national interest that there should be wide-ranging and searching national discussion and debate as to the national expectations – whether Abdullah should  re-appoint all the members of the last Mahathir Cabinet in toto unchanged, or whether he should be bold enough to initiate a major shake-up of the Cabinet dropping all the  Ministerial incompetents and deadwoods accumulated over the years who have long ceased to be of useful service to the government,  people and country. 

The less than nine months left for the transition of power from Mahathir to Abdullah should also be used by the Malaysian people  to conduct a public assessment and audit of the performance of each individual Cabinet Minister and to secure public opinion as to who among the  members of the last Mahathir Cabinet who should be dropped or retained in the first Abdullah Cabinet based on their Ministerial record and performance.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman