Pakatan Harapan should form a shadow cabinet before Parliament sits on May 18 despite the unclear status of the coalition and its partners, said a political scientist.
This will convince voters that PH is still a viable government-in-waiting and hold the current Perikatan Nasional administration to account, said Sunway University’s Prof Wong Chin Huat.
A shadow cabinet is a practice in the United Kingdom, where a senior opposition MP is assigned to scrutinise the policies and issues of a minister.
Wong said a shadow minister often becomes the leading candidate for the cabinet portfolio they specialised in if their party wins the general election and comes to power.
Forming a shadow cabinet will also show voters that PH has policy alternatives to the country’s most pressing issues instead of being just critics of the government, Wong said in a webinar titled, “Shadow Cabinet and the professionalisation of opposition politics”, today.
The former ruling coalition already has enough experienced MPs who were former cabinet members, such as health minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, who can hold the current minister Dr Adham Baba accountable, Wong said.
He said it would be a mistake for PH parties to fall back on practices when they were in the opposition after the 2008 and 2013 general elections.
The then Pakatan Rakyat coalition refused to name a shadow cabinet but settled on “cabinet committees” comprising three MPs from each of its component parties.
Not having shadow ministers contributed to PH not having enough politicians experienced in their portfolios when they came into federal power, Wong said.
Forming an active shadow cabinet now would also force the government into formalising the set-up, which is done in other parliamentary democracies.
“If you set up a proper shadow cabinet with states under your control, you could coordinate and have an effective communications strategy with the government,” said Wong in the webinar which was broadcast live.
“(The shadow cabinet) will push the government to do better, this benefits the people and they will give you the credit for it. It also makes it hard for the government to justify not giving you facilities as a shadow minister,” said Wong.
The webinar was organised by civil society group Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) and featured Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said and Lembah Pantai’s Fahmi Fadzil.
Fahmi, who is from PH, said he would like to see the coalition forming a shadow cabinet now that it was back in the opposition, but said the process was complicated due to the position of its parties.
PH lost power in late February when MPs from component parties PKR and Bersatu defected to form the Perikatan government with Umno, PAS, MCA, MIC and Gabungan Parti Sarawak.
However, Bersatu now has two factions, those who support Pakatan and those who are part of PN.
PH also doubts whether PN Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has majority support among all 222 MPs and is waiting to test that in the Dewan Rakyat.
This fracturing of the two coalitions, PN and Pakatan, makes it hard to divide up roles and specialisations to form a shadow cabinet.
“So, where we are is quite unprecedented and whether it is really at the forefront of many of our MPs’ minds and the political question is really the crux of the matter.”
Azalina said even without shadow cabinets, MPs have been able to scrutinise and engage with the government through parliamentary select committees.
“When Barisan Nasional was in the opposition we had shadow ministers, but our functions were not acknowledged by the PH government and even the media,” she said. – TMI