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New Malaysian Cabinet named to boost confidence

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SEAN YOONG | May 15, 2013 07:21 AM EST | AP

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia's leader named a new Cabinet on Wednesday in an effort to restore confidence in a long-ruling coalition that won national elections last week with a smaller majority.

Prime Minister Najib Razak chose a mix of experienced officials and fresher faces meant to reinvigorate an administration accused of losing touch with many Malaysians.

Najib said he considered his selection "a balanced Cabinet of experienced figures, technocrats and those who represent the young."

He announced the Cabinet 10 days after his National Front coalition survived its most fiercely contested general election in 56 years of rule. It retained 133 of Parliament's 222 seats in the May 5 polls, still short of the two-thirds majority it commanded for decades before 2008 elections.

The National Front lost the popular vote, receiving 5.24 million votes to the 5.62 million secured by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's alliance, which capitalized on rising public resentment over perceptions of government graft and racial insensitivity.

Najib said the 30 Cabinet ministers and their 27 deputies will focus on cultivating the people's trust, ensuring continuity and combating corruption.

He reshuffled veterans in key portfolios such as home affairs and defense. Among the notable new ministers are Khairy Jamaluddin, one of Malaysia's most Internet-savvy politicians, who was put in charge of youth and sports issues, and Abdul Wahid Omar, president of Malaysian banking giant Maybank, who was appointed a minister in the Prime Minister's Department.

The new Cabinet in the Malay Muslim-dominated country includes very few ethnic Chinese politicians, a reflection of how voters from the country's largest minority group abandoned the National Front in the elections. However, the lineup includes a record number of indigenous politicians from two largely rural Malaysian states on Borneo island, where support for the National Front remains steady.

Two surprises include Paul Low, an anti-corruption campaigner who will be a minister in the Prime Minister's Department, and P. Waytha Moorthy, an ethnic Indian rights activist who once led street protests against the government but was named a deputy minister.

However, some analysts said the revamp might not appear bold enough to impress the public.

"The Cabinet, at every level, is more of the same. It is disappointing. There is no substantive change to bring real national transformation," said Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at Singapore Management University.

The Cabinet is to be formally sworn in Thursday.

Najib's challenges are compounded by an opposition that refuses to acknowledge defeat in the elections. In the past week, Anwar's alliance has drawn more than 100,000 people to several rallies to protest what it considers election results tainted by illegal voters, bogus ballots and other irregularities. Najib has denied any fraud, but the opposition plans to legally challenge the results of about 30 parliamentary seats.

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Associated Press writer Eileen Ng contributed to this report.