A Shadow Prime Minister with no Shadow Cabinet

Posted on February 24, 2011

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By Dr. Malcolm Puthucherry

The truth is finally laid bare – for anyone who cares to look.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s assertion that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) does not need a shadow cabinet is nothing less than an admission that the three-party pact he leads is very much less than the sum of its parts.

He offers the excuse that PR’s parliamentary committees have been adequately performing the same role as a shadow cabinet, thus making the latter unnecessary. Well, no one is buying that for a second. Hardly anyone offhand can rattle off the names of some of those committees and their members. That they remain so obscure more than two years after being formed tells you what a poor substitute they have been to a shadow cabinet.

No, the real reason for not having a shadow cabinet which Anwar, ever the consummate political creature, refuses to tell the public is plain and simple: PR lacks the necessary cohesion and collective vision to come to an agreement between its member parties as to which ministerial portfolio ought to be entrusted to which party and the courage of conviction to announce it to the public. No amount of obfuscation by Anwar or any other PR leader can cover up that vulnerability of the pact.

For the voters, what they don’t want see, were a new government to be set up in Putrajaya, is for the winning component parties to descend into a fractious scrimmage over who gets which ministry. A shadow cabinet thus offers reasonable assurance that such a scenario would not come to pass.

PR’s problem is that the unseemly scrimmage may well occur if they try to cobble together a shadow cabinet now and thus put a massive dent to any electoral prospect of forming a new government. A chicken-and-egg situation, if ever there was one, for which the typical Anwarite solution is to sweep it under the carpet and pray that people won’t notice.

Having promised the specific reforms it will undertake within a specified timeframe, the three opposition parties have failed to see that the next logical question voters will ask is: which among them will be assigned the task of accomplishing which reform? A fair question to ask as in reality successful completion of a task hinges on which individual is held directly accountable for it. Thus, the necessity of a shadow cabinet to back up campaign promises. Opposition party leaders however appear to have settled for thinking in half measures.

For far too long, PKR, PAS and DAP have been peddling the line, “Put us in government, we’ll sort things out, everything will be OK”. Well, that is wearing a little thin. The three parties do not seem to have been able to go beyond this and show that they can be a cohesive and viable coalition fit and ready for government. The only thing going for them is that their adversary is BN. Slim pickings indeed for the voters.

As for Anwar, his boldness in anointing himself the shadow prime minister is not matched by any similar boldness in the arduous task of putting together a shadow cabinet – the oddity of a shadow prime minister without a shadow cabinet does not seem to bother him. Such is his ambition. Presumably, his promise to the country remains unchanged from the time he was an Umno deputy prime minister: make me prime minister, I’ll sort things out, everything will be OK.

Posted in: Frustrations