Analyst: Can BN’s shadow Cabinet play its role effectively?

Penang Institute’s Wong Chin Huat wonders whether the shadow Cabinet will hold weekly meetings, like the real Cabinet, to discuss issues.

PETALING JAYA: Political analysts said the Barisan Nasional shadow Cabinet was a good sign that the coalition was serious about playing its role as the opposition but questioned the number of frontbenchers in the list.

Wong Chin Huat of the Penang Institute said it showed the old mentality that “everyone gets a position”.

He said if everyone is in the shadow Cabinet, then it cannot function as the elite team for the party or coalition.

He said the key was not just specialisation or division of labour, but the separation of the first-tier players (shadow ministers) from the rest (opposition backbenchers).

“It must exclude some — to create competition — for it to work,” he told FMT.

“The problem with BN’s shadow Cabinet is not that it has old faces — if most of their MPs are old faces, then the Cabinet has to be predominantly old faces.

“The problem is every MP (except for former prime minister Najib Razak) has been given a committee.

“How can you have a frontbench of 51 members with only one backbencher?”

Wong said it was not the first shadow Cabinet as Pakatan Rakyat had formed shadow committees in 2009 and Pakatan Sarawak had its own too in 2011, but they just did not function.

He said Pakatan Rakyat’s 2009 line-up failed exactly for the same reason — because every MP was a member of the shadow committee.

However, Wong said BN’s shadow Cabinet was better than the Pakatan Rakyat committee in the sense that every committee has a joint chair (shadow deputy ministers).

He wondered whether BN intended to have weekly or monthly shadow Cabinet meetings, with only the shadow Cabinet ministers attending.

“If not, then this will just be a cheap cosmetic effort.

“If BN is serious, then Zahid should position himself as shadow prime minister but who will be shadow deputy prime minister? Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Ismail Sabri?”

BN’s list did not name its candidate for prime minister, and merely named Zahid, Razaleigh and former rural development minister Ismail to be in charge of the Prime Minister’s Department.

The shadow Cabinet is divided into “portfolio committees”, named after current Cabinet posts.

Among notable shadow ministers in the list are Khairy Jamaluddin (finance), Hishammuddin Hussein (defence), Hasan Arifin (economic affairs), Reezal Merican Naina Merican (foreign affairs), Mahdzir Khalid (education), Shabudin Yahaya (Islamic affairs), Bung Moktar Radin (water, land and natural resources) and Wee Ka Siong (transport).

Merdeka Center executive director Ibrahim Suffian.

Announcing the set-up on Sept 26, Umno secretary-general Annuar Musa said each committee would have two joint chairmen, who would also appoint three experts.

Khairy, as shadow finance minister, has been tasked with drawing up an alternative budget. The 2019 Budget is expected to be tabled on Nov 2.

Commenting on the list, UKM’s Faisal S Hazis said many individuals were placed under one ministry and that did not follow the concept of a shadow Cabinet.

“There should be only one individual to represent a ministry but the list shows almost all Umno MPs are in the shadow Cabinet.

“With Zahid leading, it still represents the old Umno regime and it is not a very convincing line-up.”

However, he said, it was a positive move by the party to provide checks and balances in Parliament.

He hoped Umno can convince people by giving good arguments in Parliament, instead of relying on its old style of using vulgar and harsh words when debating.

The shadow Cabinet needs to ensure a positive debate, based on policy, he added.

Merdeka Center executive director Ibrahim Suffian said the shadow Cabinet signified BN’s efforts to be an effective opposition.

BN MPs will be able to win over people when and if they’re able to display a good grasp of issues and offer convincing arguments, he said.