Govt faces make-or-break test on budget today

Dr Mahathir and Ku Li call for MPs to vote against Budget 2021 in surprise press conference


MALAYSIA’S budget will face its final test in Parliament today in what is expected to be a tight vote that could overturn Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s government.

Muhyiddin has survived a de-facto confidence vote via the federal budget, with the supply bill receiving enough support at both the policy and committee stages, despite repeated attempts by the Opposition to reject the expansionary spending plan.

A surprise joint press conference yesterday by two of the country’s most senior political figures, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tengku Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah, however, have complicated matters for Muhyiddin’s government.

“There is a possibility that the government might lose,” Dr Mahathir told reporters in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The press conference marked the first show of partnership between the two veterans, and just a month after they reportedly met to discuss the formation of a “unity government”.

Dr Mahathir and MPs from his Parti Pejuang Tanah Air had previously stood up to oppose Budget 2021 in the Dewan Rakyat, describing support for the federal budget as a recognition of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

Tengku Razaleigh had also abstained from participating in the debate and voting for Budget 2021 at the policy stage.

The Gua Musang MP, better known as Ku Li, said he will continue to refrain from participating in the vote for Budget 2021, while indicating that others who support him may vote against it.

Ku Li has long questioned the legitimacy of the PN administration, revealing in October that he had sought for a no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin on the eve of a crucial state election in Sabah.

Opposition MPs have since filed a total of 25 no-confidence motions against Muhyiddin.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued yesterday, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition also called for lawmakers to vote against the bill in a “definite” bloc vote today. It said the bill has failed to include items deemed necessary to buffer the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic such as cash payment for frontliners and an extensive moratorium on bank loans.

“The PH coalition urges MPs on both sides to reject the third reading of the bill tomorrow (Dec 15) as the budget does not fulfil its objectives and aims of fighting Covid-19, assisting the general public and in revitalising the economy,” the statement read.

Despite the common call, it is understood that Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has not been in touch with Dr Mahathir on the move. Many view the Opposition’s inability to reject the supply bill at the policy stage last month as a tactical failure.

“He (Anwar) has no contact with me, so there are no discussions with him,” Dr Mahathir said.

“He is named as the Opposition leader, but he does not control us. We can do what we like in Parliament. I don’t need to flash support for any leader of the Opposition.”

When asked to comment on the strength of the PN government and on speculation that 10 Umno MPs had signed a statutory declaration (SD) in support of Anwar, Dr Mahathir merely noted that the matter will be made known in the lower house today.

“There have been a lot of talks of various SDs being signed by MPs on both sides. I had also received full backing by some who claim to support me, so SDs do not count. What matters is what happens in Parliament.”

Read our earlier report

Budget 2021 could lose support: Dr M