COULD Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have been a little bit more radical and bold in appointing his new Cabinet, given that he had been handed such a sweeping mandate in the 2004 general election?
Maybe yes; maybe not. My view? I think he could.
In remaking the Cabinet, any prime minister must face political reality. And the political reality is that no democratically elected leader can have it all his way.
This is the same with the US or French president or the British, Japanese and Indian prime minister. In the end, what matters is the leader must come out with a team that delivers.
Abdullah has to take into consideration many factors in appointing his Cabinet. At the same time there are also many constraints, even though he has a very strong mandate.
Here are five major considerations and constraints:
·POWER sharing. The Prime Minister has to ensure that the various parties in his Barisan Nasional coalition are adequately represented.
Hence, the Parti Bersatu Sabah, the biggest Kadazandusun party, which has been out in the cold, is now back with Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili. Datuk Seri Adenan Satem from the Parti Pesaka Bumiputra of Sarawak replaces Datuk Effendi Norwawi.
·REGIONAL representation. He also has to consider that as far as possible every Malaysian state, including the Federal Territories, is represented. Not only that, the size of the state, and its importance to the Barisan’s electoral prospects are factors to be considered.
·WOMEN. In an era of sexual and political equality, it’s important that women are adequately represented in the Cabinet.
·VIEWS of individual Barisan party chiefs. Although it’s the prerogative of the Prime Minister to appoint whoever he wants to be a member of his government, he normally respects the list of recommendations for ministers/deputies/ parliamentary secretaries submitted by the respective Barisan component party when it comes to their respective quotas for such posts.
·THE coming Umno elections. While Abdullah may have received an impressive mandate in the general election, he must look ahead at the coming Umno party elections where he needs to get confirmation as party president.
Also, he wants to ensure that his supporters will do well in the party polls.
At the end of the day, I believe Abdullah has come up with a Cabinet that is more dynamic and performance-orientated than the previous one.
He has also streamlined and reshuffled many government departments and agencies with the view to giving them a sharper focus and improving delivery of government services.
A very important consideration is the business community, which will be reassured with Abdullah retaining the Finance Ministry and reappointing Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, a highly respected professional, as Second Finance Minister.
Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, another technocrat, who would have been mentri besar had Barisan won Kelantan, is rewarded with a ministerial post in the Prime Minister’s department with responsibility over economic planning.
Of the 34 ministers, 14 are new faces, representing more than 40% of the Cabinet. This is a big change, percentage-wise.
Abdullah is also conscious of nurturing the next echelon of national leaders.
They include Datuk Hishammuddin Hussein who is promoted to the influential Education Ministry, Datuk Azalina Othman who is made Youth and Sports Minister, a meteoric rise for the Puteri Umno head, and Datuk Leo Michael Toyad, promoted as Tourism Minister from deputy minister.
I feel a Cabinet of 34 ministers is probably a little too large for effective policy discussion. A more manageable size would be between 22 and 25 members.
This could be done by having a two-tier system, as in Britain, Canada and Australia, where Cabinet Ministers are entitled to attend, while other full ministers will only be required to attend when matters under their purview need Cabinet approval.
But in the Malaysian context such a system may not find favour, especially in a diverse coalition as the Barisan.