Shadow plays of the other cabinet

THE last time an opposition shadow cabinet list came out, Parti Keadilan Rakyat vice-president R. Sivarasa was not only law minister but deputy prime minister II as well.

By Syed Nadzri (NST)

But that was eight months ago, just before the Permatang Pauh by-election when the PKR-Pas-DAP alliance led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was oozing with confidence that it would take over the Federal Government in the "new dawn" of mass defections of Dewan Rakyat members from the ruling Barisan Nasional.

That change in government never took place, of course, but the list was a sensation when it was circulated widely at the height of the by-election campaign. Reactions were varied and it was hotly disputed by the top brass in PKR who questioned its authenticity and motive of the distribution.

Sivarasa himself dismissed the list as a joke and propaganda from BN, insisting that the shadow cabinet was mischievously drawn up to work up Malay sentiment against the Anwar-led Pakatan Rakyat.

Fair enough. If that list was a sham, can the real shadow cabinet please stand up now?

In the old line-up, the 22-member cabinet was helmed by Anwar as prime minister and finance minister I. Apart from Sivarasa, DAP national adviser Lim Kit Siang, and Sabah Progressive Party president Datuk Seri Yong Teck Lee were the other deputy prime ministers.

In addition, Lim was also assigned the Home Ministry portfolio while Yong was given the task of handling the Rural Ministry. Others included Pas president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang as minister in charge of religion, Pas secretary-general Datuk Kamarudin Jaafar (entrepreneur), Pas information chief Mahfuz Omar (environment) and Pas central committee member Dr Lo'Lo Ghazali (women, culture and arts).

The other PKR members in the line-up were party vice-president Azmin Ali (finance minister II), treasurer William Leong (economy, trade and industry), information chief Tian Chua (communication and information), Nurul Izzah Anwar (youth and sports) and Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (agriculture).

The DAP officials "appointed" included Karpal Singh (integrity and federal relations), Dr P. Ramasamy (education), Dr Tan Seng Giaw (health), M. Kulasegaran (human resources), Fong Kui Lun (science and technology), M. Manogaran (foreign), Tan Kok Wai (works), Chong Chien Jen (race relations) and Tony Pua (housing and local government).

In the light of the new cabinet announced by new Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on April 9, the above might need updating. After all, there has been a lot of talk about a shadow government for some time. Or is it going to be the favourite old tactic of "yes there is… oops, no there isn't".

A PKR insider told me on Sunday there has been no official discussion so far on the matter.

There is nothing strange about shadow cabinets. They are common in some countries, especially those that practise the Westminster style of government like Malaysia.

As the name suggests, a shadow cabinet is a team of officials usually drawn up by the opposition to match up with ministers in the real cabinet. It is like a man-to-man marking strategy in football or a beat system in newsroom operations — education to education, agriculture to agriculture, foreign to foreign and so on.

For instance, if the Education Ministry decides to continue with the policy of teaching of Science and Mathematics in English or scrapping the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia exam, the shadow minister is expected to give his views to the contrary (and they better be intelligent and sensible ones).

With the new cabinet and portfolios comprising 28 ministers and 25 ministries, the federal opposition should be bold and brave enough to come up with its counter-team immediately.

But there are indications that there won't be a shadow cabinet at all, just a panel consisting of representatives from the main opposition parties to conduct a general monitoring of the ministries.

Some people say the reluctance reflects the opposition leader's lack of courage in naming his team. It shows the complications that come with the task of pleasing everyone — even more so with BN having 13 component parties.

Just from the purported list above it is clear that it would have caused a riot in the ranks had it passed through — Hadi in a junior position? No Nasharudin Mat Isa? No Teresa Kok? No Khalid Samad? And what about Fong Po Kuan, Wee Choo Keong, Dr Mohd Hatta Ramli, Zulkifli Nordin and Jeff Ooi? And Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin won't take it lying down as well, I gather.

Yes, it is a tough call. Those left out could end up defecting to the other side. And this, more than anything else, is the part that is actually holding up the shadow cabinet.