Undercurrents over who to replace Shahrizat:From Kamilia to Heng to Yen Yen to wild cards!
UPDATE3 Women, Family and Community Development minister Shahrizat Jalil attended her last monthly meeting at the ministry on Friday. Her Senator's appointment is due to expire on April 8, and with it, her ministerial position. The 59-year-old Shahrizat will however continue to head the Wanita Umno or the Umno women's wing.
Although Shahrizat is still minister until Sunday, there is already speculation over who will replace her. Names touted include either her deputy minister Heng Seai Kie or Kamilia Ibrahim, the Wanita deputy chief.
Even Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen or another colleague might be asked to help out and take on a dual job as a temporary caretaker until the 13th general election is held, speculators said.
The main reason for the buzz over Shahrizat's replacement - given that her ministry is a low-profile one and does not normally attract much interest - is because of the wrangling within her Wanita wing over who should receive the spoils from her Cabinet departure.
The simmering discontent in Wanita has spilled into the Umno main wing, where infighting and factionalism is at its most intense ahead of both GE-13 and the party's internal polls due to be held later this year.
Would Umno really give MCA an additional minister post?
Although, no final decision has been made and wild cards may still be sprung by Prime Minister Najib Razak as he tries to pacify his party, some ministry watchers expect Seai Kie - an MCA senator - to pip Kamilia for the post.
They say Najib - the Umno president - may deem it 'too sensitive' to give the job to Kamilia due to the current state of infighting in his party.
However, those familiar with MCA doubt that Najib will award another full-minister post to the Chinese component, the second largest party in BN and which already has 4 full ministers in the Cabinet.
They say if Najib did not wish to appoint someone from Wanita Umno, he might ask Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen to oversee, since it is a portfolio she has held before.
For the soft-spoken Seai Kie, if the appointment goes through, it will be a big boost but her tenure will not be long-lived as Najib is expected to dissolve Parliament and call for snap general elections by the middle of June.
"If Heng is chosen, this will help the MCA and Chua Soi Lek save face a bit and show to the Chinese community that they have made progress. But I don't think anybody will be interested in what MCA and BN have to say anymore," PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.
"If it is Yen Yen and it is a dual role that specifies she is merely a caretaker minister for the Women's ministry, it won't be seen as an additional award but more of a temporary juggle until Najib decides on whom, which is probably after GE-13 when he reshuffles the Cabinet. Technically, Najib can even appoint a male minister to oversee, but that won't be very wise. People will laugh."
However, some Umno insiders are adamant Kamilia will replace Shahrizat as initially expected. They said there was no reason for Najib not to claim the Cabinet post for their party and pass it to MCA, no matter how brief the tenure, adding that there was intense lobbying from the Wanita.
"Wanita is already split over the Shahrizat scandal. To not pass her Cabinet position back to the wing is asking for trouble, they will deem it a slur and create more fuss for Najib which he can ill afford if he is really going for a quick GE-13," an Umno watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.
Shahrizat has been at the centre of the RM250 million NFC corruption debacle in which her husband, Salleh Ismail, and three children have been accused of plundering from a government soft loan granted to build the national cattle breeding project.
Despite Shahrizat insisting she knew nothing of her family's alleged wrongdoings, there have been angry calls from the public, the Opposition and Umno itself for her to resign from all positions so as not to tar the party ahead of the 13th general election.
In particular, Kamilia - who heads the Kuala Kangsar women's division - has led the charge in calling for Shahrizat to step down. This may be why there is speculation Najib may decide to put Kamilia on hold until sentiments cooled. He would also not want to be seen rewarding a "rebel", not so soon anyway, even though Kamilia does have a cause supported by many in Umno.
Wild card from the indecisive Najib
It is also not impossible that the indecisive Najib will spring a wild card and bring in someone else from Wanita.
Suspects include Rafidah Aziz, the long-time former Trade minister and Kuala Kangsar MP. However, to do so would be to 'jump over' Kamilia, who as the deputy Wanita chief is by convention the next in line. This would only add to the rivalry in Wanita.
Being Najib, critics say, he may even leave the post vacant and let Seai Kie take charge but in her capacity as deputy minister. But this is inappropriate and it would also be a giveaway sign that GE-13 is indeed at the doorstep.
However the chips fall, even if Kamilia is not selected this round, she is expected to assume the post if the Umno-BN retains the federal government and a Cabinet reshuffle is held after GE-13.
Press conference on Sunday
Meanwhile, PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli told Malaysia Chronicle his party will continue to expose the scandals in the NFC saga.
Earlier this week, Rafizi revealed that Shahrizat's husband and son had 'rushed' to sell off three shop/office lots in upmarket Plaza Damas, Sri Hartamas at fire sale prices, accepting a sale price of RM3million when the market value was RM4 million.
"We will continue to expose all the corruption and embezzlement until the full RM250 million has been recovered," Rafizi told Malaysia Chronicle.
Meanwhile according to Bernama, Shahrizat will still attend several ministerial events over the next two days before holding a press conference on Sunday, her last day in office.