pic by TMR FILE
WHEN Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) said that he and MPs aligned to him would reject Budget 2021, his critics and sceptics said it was just a show on his part.
They are mostly those who held on to the theory that the “Sheraton Move” in February this year, which saw the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government, was manoeuvred by Dr Mahathir to deny Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from taking over the prime minister’s (PM) post.
Mostly from PKR and a sprinkling from the DAP, these critics contended that Dr Mahathir would make a “U-turn” when the time comes for voting for the budget in Parliament.
If the budget was defeated, it would then be taken as a vote of no-confidence against PM Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, leading to the possibilities of the formation of a new government and even opening the opportunity for Anwar to become the ninth PM.
Yesterday, when the budget was put up for voting and after an Opposition MP requested for block voting instead of merely based on voice count, only 13 MPs stood up which made it two-short of the required 15 for the block voting to be conducted.
And as it turned out, Dr Mahathir and his three other Parti Pejuang Tanah Air MPs stood up alongside nine MPs said to be six from Parti Amanah Negara, one from PKR, one from DAP (Sarawak) and one from Parti Sarawak Bersatu, while others, under the pressure from government MPs who declared that those who opposed the budget were traitors to the rakyat, caved in.
It is difficult to actually ascertain why the rest of the Opposition MPs chose not to stand up as well. Instead, the social media is abuzz with how some of the Opposition MPs that wanted to stand up were “pulled back” to their seats by their colleagues, for reasons only known to them.
The government MPs, in their attempts to threaten MPs from the other side of the divide into supporting or not opposing the budget, were heard shouting among themselves to take the pictures of the “traitors” if anyone dared to stand up opposing it.
Dr Mahathir stood up and pulled down his mask, and later when asked why did he do what he did, his answer was: “I want to make sure they see me.”
Anwar, who chose not to stand up, was later vilified by netizens who mocked him over his “strong, formidable and convincing” numbers to allow him to be the PM and without courage to stand up and state his stand.
The frustration among the social media players were understandable, expectations were as high as their anticipation that the backdoor government would finally be brought to their knees, starting with the defeat of the budget bill.
There are attempts from among the Opposition to justify why the budget could not be rejected in totality as the government had allowed for the withdrawal of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) Account 1 and the extension of the moratorium in bank repayments.
It had already been pointed out that these matters did not have to go through the budget approval as the moratorium had been approved as early as in March, while the EPF withdrawal would have been sufficiently made through an executive decision.
In other words, what the government had done in railroading the MPs to support the budget is by wrapping it up with issues related to the people, such as its defeat will result in civil servants not getting their salary, pension and allowance.
To “seal the deal”, government leaders and their backbenchers started promoting the idea that any MP who opposed the budget bill is a traitor to the people.
Obviously, they had pursued these efforts relentlessly because it was a “bad” budget that was only politically self-serving and would not stand the test of good governance.
And of course, to make their case, they, who are the actual traitors for being kleptocrats and supporters of the kleptocrats, had to outshout their critics using the same label, obviously hoping that eventually, the very same label on them would come unstuck.
The surprise was the preparedness of the Opposition MPs to not stand up against the budget when they themselves knew that it was a “bad” one, and they were the last man standing between the rakyat and those they had labelled as traitors prior to this.
Such is their fear of being labelled as traitors that they had allowed, traitors who set up a backdoor government and tabled a budget to serve their political continuity to get away with such a sham.
It is indeed an irony. Dr Mahathir, the 95-year-old man they had relentlessly accused as the traitor who manoeuvred the betrayal of the people’s mandate vis-à-vis the Sheraton Move, is the one that fearlessly stood up to oppose those who formed the backdoor government.
And they, who used to take the moral high ground, on the other hand, stood by the side lines, sheepishly and unashamedly attempted to justify a budget prepared by those whom they themselves had declared as traitors of the people’s mandate.
Having styled themselves as fighters of the people, they are indeed an anomaly to Zapata’s — “I would rather die standing than live on my knees” — benchmark of a struggle.
Their supporters had, however, expressed their disgust over their antics, though such disappointment would not likely last forever.
And scraped knees can be hidden, when covered, especially in silk.
Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.