Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak Reuters

In a sweeping Cabinet reshuffle that many see as a desperate attempt to cling on to power, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has sacked his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and attorney general Abdul Gani Patail.

The cabinet reshuffle also saw the appointment of the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Nur Jazlan Mohamed as the new deputy Home Minister.

Following his new appointment, Nur Jazlan will have to give up his post at the committee, which is undertaking a parliamentary investigation into the debt-ridden state development fund, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad or 1MDB.

"All proceedings that had been arranged for August, including 1MDB will be halted," until the new committee line-up is announced at the next parliament sitting, Nur Jazlan announced.

"The removal of the AG and the DPM will be seen as acts of desperation by Najib"
- Terence Gomez, political analyst at University of Malaya

Parliament is expected to choose new members for the committee in October. Committee members are not allowed to hold any position in the cabinet, Todayonline reports.

Prime Minister Najib has been coming under increasing pressure from both members of his own party as well as opposition members and the public, over his role in the development fund.

NGOs have been calling on him to take a leave of absence while several investigations are underway into the financial mismanagement and possible graft at the development fund.

The fund has a $11bn debt and fears that it may require a government bailout has pushed the ringgit to drop to 17 year lows. Wide ranging allegations of mismanagement and funds being channelled into overseas accounts linked to Malaysians have been rife in local newspapers.

The Wall Street Journal this month ran a report claiming that nearly $700m had been channelled through agencies, banks and companies linked to the fund before ending up in Najib's account. Najib is currently considering whether to sue the newspaper.

Najib has described the allegations made against him as "political sabotage" and said he had never received any money for personal gains.

The Prime Minister, who chairs the advisory panel of the development fund, has already imposed a three month suspension on The Edge newspaper over its coverage of the issue, and blocked access to Sarawak Report, a website that also wrote about 1MDB, claiming breach of internet law.

In a televised address on Tuesday (28 July), Najib announced that he has replaced his deputy, who has been highly critical of the prime minister's handling of the 1MDB affair and has called for transparency. Muhyiddin is also a chief rival for Najib's premiership.

Muhyiddin has been replaced by a firm loyalist, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi, Channel News Asia reports.

Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, who is part of a multi-department task force investigating 1MDB, was also sacked for "health reasons", a government statement said without elaborating.

In all, the prime minister appointed seven new ministers and nine deputy ministers, which was aimed at creating a more "unified team" ahead of the next general elections due by 2018, news reports said.

Latest move seen as acts of desperation

Terence Gomez, a political analyst with the University of Malaya said: "The removal of the AG and the DPM will be seen as acts of desperation by Najib. I suspect that the 1MDB task force has sufficient evidence to file charges against key actors in this company which may include the PM."

Lawyers for Liberty questioned the right of the prime minster to remove Attorney General Abdul Gani, saying that under the Federal Constitution, is tenure is protected and he can only be removed from office through a tribunal appointed by the King for breach of code of ethics, inability, infirmity of body or mind or any other cause, to properly discharge the functions of his office.

"The sudden removal of Gani Patail as the AG at the whim of the PM is shocking to say the least, and can only fuel public suspicion of interference, that this was done in bad faith as he had then headed the high level task force investigating the massive 1MDB scandal that is currently engulfing the PM's administration."

Lawyers for Liberty urged Najib "not to act recklessly and in contravention of the Constitution." It urged the prime minister to set up a tribunal in accordance with the constitution to allow Abdul Gani to defend himself against any charges.