PETALING JAYA, 25 June 2009: Pakatan Rakyat needs to, among others, form a shadow cabinet in order for Malaysia to start having a two-party system, a political scientist said.
Monash University Sunway Campus’s Prof Dr James Chin said Pakatan Rakyat (PR) had to first formalise itself as a coalition before talk about Malaysia having a two-party system could be realised.
“In addition to this, a two-party or two-coalition system requires two equal, competing coalitions which are roughly of the same setup,” he said in a phone interview.
Chin noted that as a coalition, the PR was not yet of equal strength to Barisan Nasional (BN) and questioned whether the opposition could even be regarded as a coalition at this juncture.
“They are more like three people driving in the same car, and are unclear even about who the driver is,” he said, adding that conversely, the BN was a coalition with a very clear driver in Umno.
Khalid IbrahimChin added that if the PR failed to formalise itself immediately, for example by announcing a shadow cabinet, the only other option for a two-party system to emerge would be if it wins the next general election.
After the PR’s victory in the 7 Apr 2009 Bukit Gantang parliamentary by-election, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced that the opposition would not set up a shadow cabinet.
Instead, the PR would create panels comprising representatives from PKR, DAP and PAS to monitor the ministries. To date, however, the PR has yet to make public what these panels are or if they have come into force.
“We are definitely on the way to a two-party system, but if PR loses the next general election, its current structure will fall apart,” Chin said.
He was responding to Selangor Menteri Besar and Selangor PKR liaison chief Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s statement on 23 June 2009 that Malaysia’s “current two-coalition system” would provide better checks and balances compared to a unity government.
The unity government idea was mooted by Umno and PAS in recent months, but was effectively rejected by the PR on 22 June.
“A two-party system is only considered desirable in Malaysia because we have no history of a truly working democracy,” Chin stressed, adding that many citizens now consider anything that alters Umno’s one-party dominance as “a success”.
James Chin (© Monash University,
“People are just looking for a peaceful transfer of power now,” he said.
Nevertheless, Chin said that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had a 50-50 chance of leading the BN to victory at the next general election.
“BN still has a unified machinery and money, while the PR parties’ machineries have not actually merged on the ground,” he said.
According to Chin, the PR’s strong cooperation now was only driven by its common hatred of Umno, a basis which might not be tenable for long-term cooperation.
Tshiung Han See says
I’m glad Chin said that malaysia doesn’t have a history of a workable democracy. It’s a fact we need to absorb before we invoke all the other stable systems of government in the world and pine that Malaysia doesn’t work like any of them (except Indonesia). Even the constitution points to non-democratic origins and opposition and civil society efforts to subvert that can’t possibly succeed until we admit we have to work with what we have.
You got that right …
Yeap Cheng Liang says
Basically we don’t need a dominant driver in a partnership. But we need to know PR’s stand on major policies of this nation and they have to make it clear how they are going to govern once come into power. Even in a formalised coalition, a dominant driver will only become anthoritarian, a repeat of BN’s mistake. Forming a “shadow cabinet” or panel is very important to make their stand clear on each policy and that, to a certain extent, will make clear PR’s governing philosophy.
A shadow cabinet shows us what the opposition may do and whether we can believe if they can take over successfully. The lack of a shadow cabinet by PR leads me to believe that unity within PR is shaky (cannot decide who gets what) and that they recognise the lack of experience and competence if they were to take over.
Tshiung Han See says
I love Dr Chin’s description of the PR, not as a coalition, but as “three people driving in the same car, […] unclear even about who the driver is.”
The flaw in the image â€” they’re car pooling!
Tshiung Han See,
I agree that it is important to note that Malaysia does not have a history of a workable democracy but I fail to see the relevance of your point regarding the non-democratic origins of our constitution with regards to the issue of PR forming a shadow cabinet.
Also, I doubt very many constitutions in operation today have “democratic” origins, in the sense that they are almost always designed by an elite group professing to have the best interests of the people at heart.
Tshiung Han See says
My point was that when the social experiment called Malaysia first gained sovereignty, the goal was not to give each and every Malaysian a voice or a vote. The goal was to give Malay Malaysians enough of the economic pie. This was a response to the 1931 population consensus, when Malay Malaysians found out that they would soon be a minority race in their own land. This is borne out through the citizenship disputes, over which Onn Jafar resigned from Umno. This is borne out through the government’s reluctance to re-absorb Chinese-rich Singapore.
In advocating for change, we take democracy as the goal. We have never achieved it, nor come close. Let’s admit that and move on to bigger and better things.