Anwar’s Cabinet Line-up: Game Theory in Practice

Anwar’s Cabinet Line-up: Game Theory in Practice | IKRAM

The announcement of the cabinet posts by the Prime Minister last night was received with mixed response by the Malaysian public.

Given Anwar’s reform agenda, the biggest upset is probably the appointment of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who has multiple corruption charges, as the Deputy Prime Minister. However, the outcome of the line-up is probably an optimum outcome already, given the circumstances.   

Here, game theory may offer a framework to help us understand what happened in the minds of those negotiating for the cabinet posts.  

Game theory is simply strategic interactions between two or more players as each player attempts to further their interests.  A player can be any party (individual or group) who has strategic interest in the outcome.

Each player has specific goals and interests. The interests between players can be competing. As an example, two (or more) players can be aiming for the same prize, say the post of a Finance Minister. 

To start, post GE-15, the reality (the ‘game’) is not ideal for any of the player because no single coalition commands a simple majority in the Dewan Rakyat.

The Prime Minister has been appointed by His Majesty Yang Maha Mulia Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong from among a group of players who have agreed to form the unity government. 

The game of interest is in negotiating for cabinet posts – who gets what. However, it should be noted that the prizes at stake go beyond cabinet posts.

There are other prizes, potentially more lucrative, that are not visible to the public eyes. Therefore, negotiations that have been going on over the past one week could well go beyond chasing for cabinet posts. 

In negotiating, each player attempts to maximise their payoffs (goals and interests). Note that failure to reach an agreement would lead to an unstable government in which, every player would lose (except for a player who has a kingmaker role, but that would complicate the game).

This could happen as early as 19th December when Anwar’s position as the Prime Minister would be challenged in a confidence vote. 

Therefore, each player would have to come to a compromise during negotiations. No single player will get all their wishes. As a simple rule, a player with higher seats in the parliament is expected to get more cabinet posts through there could be other rules and constraints that take precedent. 

An ‘equilibrium’ is achieved when any further move by any player would no longer change the outcome of the game.

This is when all players have maximized their gains (or expected gains) and the game ends. Cabinet posts are finalized and the Prime Minister can announce the outcomes – which we saw last night. 

In practice, the analysis of game theory is a lot more complicated than what is described here. But it is hoped that this brief commentary provides a glimpse of what could have been going on in the minds of the ‘players’ in the game over the past one week and why the outcome might not be the best, in the eyes of the public. 

One thing for sure, despite being in a forced marriage of sort, the Anwar administration must demonstrate true leadership and deliver.

As a matter of principle and with utmost priority, the government shall serve the public with full integrity without fear or favour. Then only can the country progress and prosper. 

Mohammad Abdul Hamid
Head of Economic Cluster, IKRAM 

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