Will a Cabinet reshuffle solve Pakatan’s problems?

  • All the pieces matter
  • Monday, 25 Nov 2019

IN the aftermath of the Tanjung Piai by-election, one of the more hotly discussed options on the table is a Cabinet reshuffle.

I’m perfectly fine with the concept of shaking things up once in a while, but this move raises the question: will a Cabinet reshuffle solve the key problems Pakatan is facing?

The answer to this question pivots of course on what one believes constitutes Pakatan’s key problems.

My colleague Philip Golingai opened a recent article of his with quite a brilliant quote by political analyst Prof Shamsul Amri Baharuddin:

“Duckweed or kiambang is a good analogy for Pakatan as the coalition has no roots. Like the duckweed, Pakatan is not rooted on the ground, it is floating on the surface. If you look at the content of Pakatan, it is made of floating entities which were rooted elsewhere.”

Golingai explains that this references a proverb: “biduk lalu, kiambang bertaut (when the boat passes, the duckweeds reconnect)”.

I appreciated this quote because it cuts beyond the sound and fury of what we read about in the papers, and gets to the heart of what Pakatan’s problems really are.

In particular, it speaks to how the lack of a clear ideological core and core principles make the coalition seem often adrift, and reactive rather than proactive in its approach to governance and politics.

Someone else who was talking considerable sense concerning those problems was DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang, who recently described Pakatan as having fallen between two stools.

This appears to reference how Pakatan almost since day one has been paranoid about not having sufficient Malay support.

This paranoia led the coalition to move to the Malay right. In doing so of course, there was no way it could be more “right” or “ultra” than Umno and PAS.

The result? Alienating non-Malay voters, while still failing to gain Malay support.

In other words, on the floor between two stools.

Lastly comes the biggest, most obvious elephant in the room: the question of transition.

It is beyond any doubt whatsoever that the single most important question regarding the future of anybody who is anybody in the world of Malaysian politics.

Narrowing down to PKR, the question of transition is intertwined with the question of Team Anwar (party president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) or Team Azmin (his deputy Datuk Seri Azmin Ali).

The degree to which this latter question is dominating PKR has always been a little ridiculous, but the controversy over who is supposed to officiate the PKR Youth convention is taking things to a new low.

It is hard to imagine bigger disconnects between what “professional” politicians care about and what actually matters to everyday Malaysians.

If you’ll pardon my impertinence, I rather doubt that the majority of Malaysians would care about or be affected by whether it is the PKR deputy president, the Deputy Prime Minister, or Mr Bean who officiates the PKR Youth convention.

Given that, the amount of press space and energy this is taking up in PKR is wildly disproportional.

They do of course care about who the next Prime Minister will be, and as we slowly creep up on the two-year mark of Pakatan in power, the lack of a clear transition plan becomes a bigger and bigger issue.

We accepted for a long time the argument that stating a specific transition date too early will make the sitting Prime Minister a lame duck.

The situation however is evolving, and where once not stating a date and plan might have been acceptable, it may now be creating more problems than it is solving.

Many of the country’s current top leadership have had ample experience with letting multiple underlings below them compete for their favour and patronage.

The Number 1 loves having multiple people competing to be Number 2. This benefits Number 1 on top, but creates multiple instabilities below that are often bad for both the organisation, and bad for the country as a whole when that organisation is a political party.

If one accepts, as I do, that these are a sampling of the bigger problems that Pakatan is facing, we must then now ask again: how will a Cabinet reshuffle help?

The answer may well be: not at all.

Shuffling the Cabinet will not give Pakatan the ideological roots and value driven sense of purpose it needs.

Shuffling the Cabinet will not resolve the question of how Pakatan deals with questions of race and religious relations.

Shuffling the Cabinet will not give the much-needed stability that comes from having clear transition plans.

There is a chance that a Cabinet reshuffle will improve execution of government policy, and that is always a welcome thing.

It is quite possible however, that the primary problem has not been execution, but policy itself, stemming from the very top.

Occasional reshuffles are normal and in a number of cases perfectly healthy. In the here and now however, perhaps we should think with great care about whether we’ve understood the problem well enough, and are using the right tool for the right job.

NATHANIEL TAN is a strategic communications consultant who specialises in identifying the right goals, and the right tools for achieving that job. He can be reached at nat@engage.my. The writer’s views are his own.

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