Muhyiddin tested again ahead of budget voting

Reactions are mixed on whether the biggest-ever budget will be passed, as MPs from the govt bloc also robustly criticise the bill

pic by BERNAMA

THURSDAY’S Budget 2021 vote will double as a no-confidence motion for Prime Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin  (picture), who is running a razor-thin majority government since March.

If the Supply Bill failed to get the 112 simple majority — which is all the ruling coalition has now following the death of Gerik MP Datuk Hasbullah Osman — it would subsequently upend Perikatan Nasional’s eight-month rule.

Last month, several attempts were made to unseat the Pagoh MP, including over 20 motions of no confidence filed towards him in the current Dewan Rakyat session.

The move was made after Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim claimed to have a strong and formidable majority from the MPs to form a stable government.

Reactions were mixed on whether the biggest-ever budget tabled on Nov 6 would be passed, as MPs from the government bloc also robustly criticised the bill.

Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz tried to convince MPs to support the proposal, stating that the allocations for salaries, pensions and allowances for civil servants and frontliners will be at stake should the RM322.5 billion Supply Bill fail.

Opposition MPs had also made their points against the budget in the lower house.

The main argument hinges on the RM85.5 million allocation in reviving the Special Affairs Department (JASA) — an agency which was mooted and used aggressively to gain support for Putrajaya during the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

This, the Opposition said, does not show the government’s seriousness in mitigating Covid-19, but trying to strengthen their political support for the next general election.

BN Backbenchers Club chairman and former PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak (BN-Pekan) shared the same tone.

Although he did not object to JASA’s revival, he said a quadruple sum for the agency compared to his tenureship is excessive, while Malaysians are struggling with the impacts of Covid-19.

Najib, however, lauded the idea of allowing a one-off RM10,000 withdrawal from the Employees Provident Fund to ease the people’s burden and allow greater cash circulation.

BN also demanded for an extension of the automatic loan moratorium. Both requests are yet to receive responses from the government.

Representing 11 MPs in the house, Parti Amanah Negara was of the view that the strong objections on the budget were bipartisan.

Its deputy president Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub said this was the first time that everybody deliberated their points against the budget, including BN MPs who were supporters of the government.

Still, Salahuddin doubted that the government would consider MPs’ demand to amend some parts of the proposed budget.

“If the budget is not passed because the government wants to stick to their plan, I think they are preparing to make another attempt to seek emergency law.

“If that happens, we will convince the King that it is unnecessary,” Salahuddin told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a recent phone interview.

Royal Advice

Prior to the tabling of the budget, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah urged the MPs to fully support it, as it is crucial for the nation to combat the impacts of Covid-19.

It was made after he rejected Muhyiddin’s request to invoke the emergency power — an act which will allow the budget to be passed without going through the democratic process at the Parliament.

This became a dilemma for the Opposition MPs, including former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Dr Mahathir criticised Muhyiddin’s administration for not taking the Covid-19 issue seriously, stating that Putrajaya only gave 1% of the total budget towards fighting the pandemic, while allocating huge sums for other expenses, including to upgrade government departments and ministry offices.

He denied that government servants would not receive their salaries if the budget was not passed, hence it should not be used to intimidate MPs into supporting the bill.

Umno information chief Shahril Sufian Hamdan said while Umno and other parties do not agree with some parts of the bill, it is important to note the King’s decree, which called for the bill to be passed for the people.

“During debating, backbenchers can criticise and suggest improvements, but when it comes to voting, everyone ought to remember His Majesty’s decree,” he said.

Umno the Kingmaker

During the last Dewan Rakyat session, Dr Mahathir submitted the motion of no confidence towards Muhyiddin, stating that the latter must prove his administration’s legitimacy through a vote in Parliament.

However, it was not given priority by the Parliament’s Order Paper.

Last week, BN chairman and Bagan Datoh MP Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told the house that such a motion should be prioritised to test the current “political stability”.

For the record, 25 private motions of no confidence against the PM were listed in the Order Paper.

Analysts suggested that Umno MPs would be the real kingmaker to determine Muhyiddin’s fate.

The party indicated that its grassroots were unhappy with how Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia treated Umno, especially on the allocation of the Sabah state election seats.

Last month, Umno Supreme Council reiterated its support of Muhyiddin’s premiership after the King refused his request for an emergency, leading to claims that he might vacate his position.

On whether the Umno Supreme Council would hold a special meeting to discuss the budget ahead of voting day, Shahril said nothing was scheduled yet.

As it is, analysts said there are factions in Umno and it is struggling to remain intact, with some MPs already being part of Muhyiddin’s Cabinet.

Umno has 38 seats in the Dewan Rakyat followed by MCA (2), MIC (1) and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (1), making a total of 42 seats for BN.

Jury is Still Out

PKR communications director Ahmad Fahmi Mohamed Fadzil said the jury is still out on whether parties will support the bill, based on speeches from both sides last week.

“I think when the ministers debate on this budget from Monday (today), we may get a clearer sentiment,” he told TMR.

Meanwhile, Parti Warisan Sabah deputy president Datuk Ignatius Darell Leiking proposed for an extra-ordinary move to retable the budget with adjustments sought by the Opposition.

The Parti Warisan Sabah bloc — with nine votes — is yet to make a clear stance on the bill.

DAP senator Liew Chin Tong said there is still time for the government to adopt a unity budget.

“The government should realise that it is time for us to work together during this crisis,” he said in a statement on Saturday. DAP is the single-largest party in the house with 42 MPs.

Meanwhile, PAS said all of its 18 MPs will support the budget.

Gabungan Parti Sarawak, also with 18 seats, has not clearly stated their stance over the budget, but said the bill was fair for Sarawakians.

Bersatu information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan said all 31 Bersatu MPs will collectively vote for the budget this Thursday.

Analysts’ Take

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said it is still hard to guess whether the bill will be passed until the last moment.

“This is because different political parties and factions are using the budget vote to make political demands or to unseat Muhyiddin.

“Negotiations on the budget and political wranglings are likely to last longer. Muhyiddin might need to make huge political arrangements to squeeze the budget through,” he told TMR.

On the contrary, director at the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute Prof James Chin believed that Budget 2021 will be passed after some adjustments to suit all parties.

As of now, there is no indication that any of the 108 Opposition MPs will support the bill as is.

With Umno’s unclear position to either support the bill collectively or not, it is safe to say that Muhyiddin’s days are numbered.

The defeat of the spending plan would be equivalent to a no-confidence vote and could plunge the country into another leadership crisis.

Read our earlier report


Anwar: Budget 2021 still needs review