In a charged ominous atmosphere where race issues are played to the hilt by the BN, it would be to the advantage of Pakatan Rakyat to have a parliamentary committee to counter this, says Choo Sing Chye.
The demand that the opposition forms a shadow cabinet has at last removed any scepticism that there is a competing power to Putrajaya.
This recognition is meaningless if barriers are put up at every single mile towards Putrajaya to thwart the opposition from taking over.
Earlier, Khairy Jamaluddin and now Najib Tun Razak, both being educated in Britain, should not have fallen into the fallacy of thought of demanding that the opposition form a shadow cabinet.
They should have known better than to call for such a scheme to be incorporated into the opposition election menu without realising that the Malaysian Parliamentary system barely resembles the Westminster model.
Not many will argue against the fact that it’s resemblance slants more towards form than substance – hence what one might call a counterfeit Westminster model.
Then again, bear in mind a crucial feature for the existence of a shadow cabinet which either Khairy or Najib has failed or do not want to bring up.This feature allows the opposition leader and his shadow cabinet to have meetings with the government cabinet secretary and other government officials once parliament in Britain is dissolved.
The cabinet secretary and its officials through these meetings will be alerted and familiarised with the new style of administering the country and the possibility of policy changes should there be a change in government after the general election.
This is the most unique feature the opposition in Britain enjoys. This is done, so as to have a smooth transition of power if the government party loses in the general election.
Will it happen here? Remember Najib’s utterance of ‘crushed bodies’ and ‘lives lost’ is analogous to an impregnable wall built across the road leading to Putrajaya.
Apparently the absence of this very crucial feature coupled with a host of many other additional elements like concerns over the independence of the Malaysian Election Commission and media freedom had in fact made arguments for a shadow cabinet more of a philosophical estimation than a feasible one.
The shadow cabinet (front bench)
The convention of having a shadow cabinet in Britain is not new. All along from the beginning of the 19th Century toward its end, they were simply known as former cabinet ministers. Until the year 1880, the word ‘former.’ was replaced by ‘shadow, and hence the shadow cabinet.
Pakatan Rakyat’s parliamentary committee
In Britain, each political party had its own way of forming its shadow cabinet and as a result all these can be tagged into three groupings.
In the first group, the Conservative shadow cabinet ministers are chosen solely at the discretion of its leader i.e. the opposition leader. He/she can sack or appoint anyone.
But in the case of the Labour Party, it is the parliamentary Labour Party’s standing orders which initiate an election of members of the shadow cabinet. Here, the opposition leader’s hands are tied. He/she cannot simply sack any shadow cabinet ministers as he/she wishes.
And finally the Liberal Democrats approach in setting up a shadow cabinet differs to a large extent from the other two parties.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, at the beginning of the 1945-5 parliamentary session, created eight parliamentary committees, most of which embraced more than one shadow portfolio.
And this practice is akin to what Pakatan Rakyat is doing today with the formation of the parliamentary committee to shadow the government.
One can say that it is based loosely on Paddy Ashdown’s experience.
At this moment, this is the best option for Pakatan Rakyat to have because of the trend towards populism where popularity of issues is engaged with fervour.
Apparently being contained in this charged ominous atmosphere where race issues are played to the hilt by BN, it would be to the advantage of Pakatan Rakyat to have a parliamentary committee to counter this.
The reason for having a parliamentary committee is that it can encompass more members of different races from outside the Pakatan Rakyat to expand the intellectual pool so as to counter racism with greater effect. Otherwise engrossing oneself to shadow a huge XXL BN cabinet will be a futile and inconsequential undertaking.
Choo Sing Chye is a former Perak state assembly member.