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Malaysian cabinet reshuffle fails to shake corruption allegations

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addressing a conference earlier this month Reuters

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has replaced his deputy premier and sacked his attorney general in a controversial cabinet reshuffle amid a growing scandal. Earlier this month investigators discovered that nearly 700 million dollars (634 million euros) had been moved through government agencies and into Prime Minister Najib’s personal accounts, though he has denied these reports calling it political sabotage.

The reshuffle has widely been seen as an attempt to strengthen the prime minister’s hold on power as he battles through these corruption allegations.

The attorney general, Abdul Gani Patail, has been heading the investigation unit into the corruption case known as 1MDB, and the outgoing deputy prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, is one of the key challengers to the PM and increasingly vocal about their differences.

Earlier this month, he called for greater "transparency" surrounding the allegations of siphoning off public money.

Muhyiddin was replaced by loyalist Home Minister Zahid Hamidi as Najib said cabinet members "should not air their differences in an open forum that can affect public opinion against the government and Malaysia". This statement leaves no illusion that the PM is hoping to silence his cabinet critics.

Professor James Chin, director of Tasmania University’s Asia Institute, told RFI that Najib is removing his political enemies to buy him some more time in office. Muhyiddin has been invited by opposition MPs to join a vote of no confidence against the PM, but Professor Chin believes this controversial reshuffle is a show of strength that may work in Najib’s favour.

“In Malay political culture they like a strong leader, somebody who asserts his power," Chin said. "He’s showing very clearly that he’s willing to fight to stay in position.”

This comes as UK Prime Minister David Cameron is touring the region with an anti-corruption message. Cameron is due to touch down in Malaysia on Thursday and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysia’s opposition leader, has called on him to raise the scandal and human rights issues when he holds talks with Prime Minister Najib in the former British colony later this week.

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