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OPEN TO FISSURES: Striking a balance between the opposition parties is a tough call, writes John Selva
THERE was a sense of déjà vu on June 5 when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim took to the stage at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Malaysia -- a feeling not so much of anticipation as knowing expectation.
The man with one all-consuming ambition -- to become prime minister -- was facing the battle-weary international media. Surely questions would be asked about the policies that he would implement if he were voted into office. As it turned out, the evening followed an all-too-familiar pattern, with Anwar left unchallenged to espouse his view that Pakatan Rakyat would coast to victory without giving any real reasons as to why this was a good thing for Malaysians.
For someone of supposedly strong opinions and beliefs -- none stronger than his overinflated self-belief -- Anwar has a habit of undermining the things he claims to stand for. Take openness and transparency, for example.
Here he is responding to calls to reveal a shadow cabinet ahead of the general elections: "It is difficult to name the shadow cabinet because we do not know which party gets what and how many seats. The representation in cabinet will be reflective of our performance in the election." He followed up this inadequate response by noting that never before had a shadow cabinet been announced in Malaysia. Well, so much for bold reforms.
It is unclear why Anwar believes a shadow cabinet can only be named once an election outcome is known, since by nature, a shadow cabinet can only be formed in opposition. This, in turn, begs the question of whether Anwar understands that establishing a shadow cabinet and announcing a cabinet are two separate processes.
When people go to the polling station, they will be voting not for a shadow cabinet but for a member of parliament or a party. Perhaps the most important question is, why is Anwar reluctant to name his shadow cabinet.
The task of a shadow cabinet is, of course, to "shadow" the actual cabinet, to ask them questions and to hold them to account. Since few in the opposition have been in office, this might be a good way for them to gain experience on policies and ministerial portfolios. The truth is, by naming a shadow cabinet, Anwar would open himself up in more ways than he would like.
FIRST, he would have to make a number of decisions, from picking the right people for the job to striking a balance between the component parties in Pakatan. This would leave him open to criticism, something he clearly bridles at, and that simply isn't Anwar's style. Time after time, he would tell audiences what they want to hear rather than stand up for what he believes;
SECOND, a shadow cabinet delegates responsibilities between senior figures in the opposition for the simple reason that one person cannot be expected to keep abreast of all the details and be the party voice in every area. But, again, such power sharing doesn't chime with Anwar's autocratic opposition; and;
THIRD, with such stark divisions in the party, there is little chance of Anwar naming a shadow cabinet without creating more fissures. Just look at Pakatan's position on hudud. Despite having supposedly agreed on a stance last year, Pas and DAP continue to squabble over whether or not hudud will become law under Pakatan. The extent of the disunity has been widely noted, with Clive Kessler, emeritus professor of University of New South Wales, recently remarking that if Pakatan were to win the election, "they would be at one another's throats" within a week.
Possibly the most difficult of all is whether there would be roles for Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail or vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar in the shadow cabinet. Dr Wan Azizah doesn't have a seat, so if Anwar named her in his shadow cabinet, she would have to be made a senator. Appointing Nurul Izzah wouldn't be quite so hard. However, as someone who is at pains to express his concerns over Barisan Nasional's alleged "cronyism", perhaps Anwar is worried the world will cotton on to his desire to turn his family into a ruling dynasty?
People will ultimately make their own decision about whether Anwar lives up to his self-anointed title of "The Voice of Democracy in Malaysia", but for someone who has put few checks and balances in place even within his party, this epaulette hardly seems fitting. Surely, if he is committed to transparency, he should answer the questions that are being fielded rather than continuing to claim that all will be revealed if and when he comes to power.
If you read this, Anwar, the whole point of politics is that you tell the voters what you stand for before and not after the election.
The writer runs his own consultancy