KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — New Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Saturday appointed an ethnic Chinese as finance minister, the first ethnic minority to hold the powerful post in 44 years.
In addition to naming Lim Guan Eng, a former state chief minister, as finance minister, Mahathir also named former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin as home affairs minister and Mohamad Sabu as defense minister.
The three are leaders of the four parties in Mahathir's alliance, which scored a stunning election victory Wednesday by ousting the coalition that had ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957. It was a remarkable comeback for Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003 and is now the world's oldest leader at 92.
The finance minister has been an ethnic Muslim Malay since 1974 and the appointment of Lim, a chartered accountant who led the wealthy northern state of Penang since 2008, reflects reforms pledged by Mahathir's alliance to heal racial divisions in the country blamed on decades-old preferential policies.
"I don't consider myself as a Chinese, I am a Malaysian. I will ensure that the interests of all Malaysians are protected," Lim, 57, said at a news conference.
Mahathir said his Cabinet would have 25 members and that he would name the remaining members this coming week. His deputy is Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the country's first female deputy prime minister and head of another party in the pact.
Mahathir also said a special five-member council would be set up to advise the government on economic and financial matters. The council will include Hong Kong-based tycoon Robert Kuok, Malaysia's richest man, he said.
Mahathir also said he had instructed the immigration department to blacklist scandal-ridden former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife from leaving the country. Najib said on social media earlier Saturday that he was planning to take a short vacation, but denied he was fleeing.
Mahathir said there was sufficient evidence for an investigation into Najib, in reference to a massive corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund that Najib set up and is being investigated in the United States and other countries. U.S. investigators say Najib's associates stole and looted $4.5 billion from the fund, but Najib denies any wrongdoing.