Pakatan’s monitors a far cry from a shadow cabinet

(NST) KUALA LUMPUR: Pakatan Rakyat's monitoring committee in Parliament falls far short of a shadow cabinet and is more cumbersome than the ministries it seeks to keep an eye on.

Most parliamentary democracies have an opposition cabinet, whose members track those in government.

Pakatan's monitors, however, avoid this description, said Parti Keadilan Rakyat vice-president Mohamed Azmin Ali. He said the committee "is not a shadow cabinet" when he announced it last week, though it was similar.

What exactly is a monitoring committee? Why aren't there any appointments parallel to the prime minister and his deputy? And why didn't Pakatan just form a shadow cabinet?

Senior Pakatan leaders said a committee was easier to manage than a shadow cabinet because Malaysia, unlike other nations, does not recognise or support the practice.

Pas vice-president Salahuddin Ayub said a shadow cabinet was tried in 1999, when the opposition increased its strength to 45 seats from 30 in 1995.

"But there were hurdles. We didn't have as much access to facilities as you see in Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia.

"We don't have that in our Parliament. We don't want to make it (shadow cabinet) only rhetoric so we thought this would be the best way to share resources and get things done."

PKR vice-president Sivarasa Rasiah said the committee was more a "potential" shadow cabinet.

"It's a good way to start. Since March 2008 we have been working informally within this framework but now we will be more focused not only in Parliament, but also on the day-to-day functions of the ministries we will follow."

DAP national chairman Karpal Singh said the committee was in fact "some sort of shadow cabinet".

"You don't look at the label, you look at the substance. If you look at the committees and the members of parliament assigned to each ministry, it more than covers every function of cabinet.

"In terms of numbers it is not like before. Now we have 82 seats and that is a substantial number. We must even include the real possibility of taking over."

Political analyst Dr Chandra Muzaffar, however, said that, more than anything, Pakatan wanted to avoid shining a spotlight on the cracks between the three parties.

He said the alliance's de facto chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had badly managed the fragile cooperation between PKR, Pas and DAP, starting with the lack of a common ideology and proper coalition structure to rival that of the ruling Barisan Nasional.

The monitoring committee was just an excuse to avoid having to deal with their many different demands, Chandra said.

"Anwar has promised a lot of things to a lot of people to keep the coalition together, and any appointments to critical positions will cause a lot of unhappiness.

"When that happens, his game is up," he said, referring to the absence of a shadow prime minister and deputy prime minister on the committee.

Chandra said he believed the committee was a stop-gap measure to boost confidence in the alliance which has had continuous problems in recent months. He said current crises such as the DAP's pullout in Kedah and the High Chaparral issue in Penang had forced Anwar to deflect the alliance's weaknesses.

"I think what Anwar hopes will happen is that Pakatan will somehow come to power by the next general election, at the latest. Then he won't have to worry about all these things.

"But the situation has become much more urgent, they needed a response and the committee is it," Chandra said.