NST Leader: Anwar's cabinet challenge

All eyes are on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Who will he pick to be in his cabinet seems to be the most asked question since he took office on Thursday.

It will remain so until tomorrow or Tuesday, given the diverse interests of the political parties in alliance with Anwar's coalition. There are interests in the peninsula, and there are interests in Sabah and Sarawak he needs to consider.

It may be a case of "damned if I include, and damned if I exclude". What's more, it is not going to be easy for a prime minister who is being asked to put Malaysia on a reset mode after decades of going here, there and in between.

The voters have spoken: they want a competent and clean government. Court clusters may demand a seat in Anwar's government, but he must resist such insistence.

Anwar has made a small start by promising a cut in the ministers' pay. This is a nominal move but still a sign of good things to come. A more substantial promise of his is a lean cabinet.

But who will make up this cabinet? No less critical is who will helm these five ministries: Education, Finance, Agriculture, Trade and Industry and Environment? These are reset targets.

But a complicating factor has emerged. Anwar has offered Perikatan Nasional (PN) an olive branch. Some would say this is a very strategic move by Anwar to garner strong support for his government. But it must also be seen as a sign of a rare generosity by Malaysian politicians.

It is unclear if PN as a whole or just Pas would accept his offer to join the government. But if either does, he would be hard put to offer much to one or the other as component parties of Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional, Gabungan Rakyat Sabah and Gabungan Parti Sarawak will each want a good slice of the cabinet.

Having offered the olive branch, Anwar can now tell them that they were too late. PN is seen to have made a strategic error, not once but twice. When it was clear to the monarch that neither PH or PN had the simple majority of 112 to form a government, he invited both to form a unity government. PN refused.

This was its first strategic error. Later, when Anwar was picked as the 10th prime minister by the palace, the PH leader invited PN to join his coalition to form the government. PN again refused. This was PN's second strategic error.

Now that the two opportunities have passed PN by, it is best that the coalition stick to being a strong opposition. With its 73 members of parliament, it can play an important role as an opposition party.

Malaysia has lacked a strong opposition for the longest time. PN finally has the chance to show the country that it can be not only a strong, but also a responsible opposition coalition in Malaysian politics.

There is a fear that Anwar, with his charm and magnanimity, might have already enticed more than a two-thirds majority, thus stifling any opposition in Parliament. If PN chooses to be a responsible opposition, it can allay this fear. Will Anwar's government be a good government? We will get an inkling of it on Tuesday at the earliest.

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