A thorny prerogative of buts and caveats


NOW that the celebrations, reflections, resolutions and what not can be stored up alongside last year’s calendars, what lies ahead can be expected to be nothing less than tempestuous.

It, however, doesn’t help anyone, the government or the citizenry to compound all and sundry and expects everything to be dealt with within the first few months of the new year.

If the din from the social media and the “membawang” (contemporary slang for gossiping) elite force are to be entertained, the present government and a few generations after will die standing.

As such, for the sake of clarity, there is one move the leadership can attend to quickly that is the reshuffling of the Cabinet.

It stands to reason. The government is perceived to be ineffective and much as some blame could be apportioned to the civil service, the Cabinet, whether it likes it or not, will be blamed equally if not more.

Again, to act on the din would mean that the whole Cabinet will need to be reshuffled. Realistically, the prime minister (PM), whose prerogative determines who sits in the Cabinet, will tweak, select and choose and remove those who are not only ineffective but also detriment to the Cabinet’s wellbeing. However, that is the easy part and easier said than done.

In the past, when the government is dominated by one party and the other components make the number, the PM, coming from the leading party, had all the power to exercise the prerogative.

All he needs to do is to be firm and decisive. And he could well afford to do so, even if he’s a weakling.

However, the current structure where all four parties stand as equal, and added with an equally strong, non-member party from Sabah, any decision to remove a minister from any particular party may be met with threats of pull-outs and such. In other words, a move to remove or appoint a minister is not the prerogative of the PM anymore.

It doesn’t say much of these party leaders’ commitment to democratic conventions and practices, in particular, Westminster’s.

The parties are so keen to defend their turf that they may not be aware how much the acre has shrunk since.

What would be ideal is for the members of the Cabinet to offer to resign voluntarily to the PM and it is up to him to accept and retain which ministers.

That is, however, unlikely to happen, unless, the Cabinet members are aware that their position is in dire straits and the turfs they are defending are slipping from their hand steadily.

The public are not exactly oblivious to the workings of the current government and the difficulty for the PM to affect changes.

But that doesn’t mean that it is acceptable to them. In many ways than not, to their mind, it is time for the PM to crack the whip, remove the ineffective ones and those prone to cause the Cabinet embarrassing moments.

In many ways than not, such a move will only set the momentum going for the government that there’s no room for passengers and shirkers, as well as those who thought that the Cabinet positions are birth rights from the moment they won the election.

The intra-party fighting, the hedging in anticipation of the next leadership change, publicity stunts at the expense of the Cabinet and self-glorifying selfies contribute to the rut further.

And of course, the intra-party one-upmanship, mostly in pandering to racial demands, had indeed compounded the crisis.

These Cabinet members should be glad that the public is still hankering for a Cabinet reshuffle and wanting them to buck up.

With the exception of the die-hards of the previous government, the rest of the citizenry are also equally aware that bringing down the current administration can result in the return of personalities from the previous one.

And undeniably, the possibilities of such are not palatable at all. The Opposition may think that they are enjoying a good run after all the by-election victories, but when push comes to shove, it is doubtful that the idea of having the kleptocrat and his ilk back in power is palatable.

That is exactly what will happen to any premature collapse of the current administration. That reality had given it a lifeline and if not put to good use, that may end up being severed.

It is obvious that the government has its work cut out. The goodwill it enjoyed is fast disappearing, if not gone altogether.

Its good deeds are not apparent and its missteps are exaggerated and amplified. All these are symptoms that cause public disaffection to an administration, truly justified or otherwise.

Indeed, heavy is the head that wears the crown. Especially, when it is an inherited crown of thorns.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.