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Parliamentary reform first, shadow cabinet later

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If basic reforms are not carried out in our nation’s parliamentary system, how are we going to see the idea of  shadow cabinet gaining momentum, wonders W H Cheng.

The issue of an opposition shadow cabinet has suddenly surfaced again following a poser by an Umno cabinet minister on the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan’s readiness to govern the country should they win the next general election.

In response to the challenge, a leader from Pakatan Harapan component Parti Amanah Negara gave an assurance that the opposition coalition’s shadow cabinet will be announced this year.

So, what is so important about the opposition shadow cabinet today and why did Umno so often remind us that DAP’s own shadow spokespersons on ministerial portfolios are a sign that the party would dump its Pakatan Harapan partners in order to rule on its own should the opposition coalition win the next general election?

Is it logical for the DAP to rule on its own when it will only contest 50 parliamentary seats out of the total 222 seats? Even if the DAP makes a clean sweep of the 50 seats, can it rule on its own? We would like to remind Umno leaders to think and talk logically instead of making fools of themselves.

Now let’s talk about the Westminster parliamentary system that Umno is always poking at.

In a Westminster parliamentary system, the opposition bench is tasked with establishing a shadow cabinet after the formation of the cabinet by the ruling party to provide checks and balances on the government’s activities and expenditure and to present alternative policies.

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The leader of the shadow cabinet is always the opposition leader who enjoys the same status as the prime minister. Members of the shadow cabinet too enjoy similar status as ministers from the ruling party.

Members of the shadow cabinet in a Westminster parliamentary system benefit from annual government funding and research facilities to carry out their oversight activities and propose alternative policies to rival the government side.

This is what we call a fully recognised shadow cabinet protected by the constitution and the Westminster parliamentary system unlike the parliamentary system in Malaysia.

Many of us in Malaysia are still unaware of what a shadow cabinet really means and what is in the Westminster parliamentary system. Many also have the mistaken belief that a shadow cabinet ought to be established in any parliamentary democracy, which includes Malaysia.

Shadow cabinet recognised in Malaysia?

The truth is that a shadow cabinet is not just simply “an organisation” for the opposition bench in parliament where it can be established easily. The institution of a shadow cabinet requires total recognition by the Federal Constitution, including the provision of an annual budget and research facilities.

In the case of Malaysia, it is not the opposition parties which did not want to have a shadow cabinet, but the reality is that such an institution is not recognised at all and there is no mention whatsoever in any parliamentary acts or laws that would effectively authorise the institution of a shadow cabinet.

Apart from this, opposition members of parliament are also not provided with their constituency funds, and if the opposition were to initiate a shadow cabinet in such a situation, would they have the necessary funds and research facilities provided to them? We are certain that they will not get even a cent for their work.

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Furthermore, if the shadow cabinet were to come into existence on a voluntary basis, would Umno then complain that the shadow cabinet was Chinese-dominated with few Malays or that certain portfolios should go to the Malays or kick up other racial fuss?

So, what does Umno really look at in terms of an opposition shadow cabinet in Malaysia? Just to play up the racial card and to confuse the people politically?

Parliamentary reforms first!

It is premature to call for the establishment of an opposition shadow cabinet, and without the necessary parliamentary reforms, a shadow cabinet in Malaysia is impossible.

Why? Because parliamentary reforms have yet to kick in despite numerous promises made by the Dewan Rakyat speaker to push for this agenda to be implemented. A basic check-and-balance mechanism – such as having parliamentary oversight committees to oversee and scrutinise the performance and expenditures of government ministries, departments, agencies and GLCs – is still non-existent.

More often than not motions or resolutions put forward by opposition members were shot down by the speaker on the excuse that they lacked importance or priority.

The administration of parliament itself is not independent at all because the entire parliamentary organ is under the direct purview of the Prime Minister’s Department, where a cabinet minister was appointed to take charge of parliamentary affairs.

Again, we would like to ask those Umno people which part of our parliamentary system today resembles the Westminster parliamentary system? If there is one, please identify which country. We doubt they could name one.

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Truly, the Westminster parliamentary system has never existed in Malaysia at all despite claims and insistence by Umno and BN leaders that it does exist.

In this case, if the very basic reforms are not carried out in our nation’s parliamentary system, how are we going to see the bigger lot, ie shadow cabinet, gaining momentum? Totally impossible.

If the system is not reformed, the institution itself is already a failure.

Source: Berita Daily

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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