Malaysian Opposition: Won’t Support Budget if Demands Aren’t Included

Hadi Azmi and Nisha David
Kuala Lumpur
2020-11-02
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my-politics-parliament1000 Malaysian lawmakers prepare to attend a session of parliament in Kuala Lumpur, Nov. 2, 2020.
[BenarNews]

The reconvening of Malaysia’s parliament Monday was cut short after seven people involved in the session tested positive for COVID-19, officials said, even as the main opposition alliance insisted it would reject the government’s national budget if it didn’t incorporate their proposed financial measures.

A day earlier, the finance minister held an unprecedented meeting with opposition Pakatan Harapan leaders who lobbied the government to craft a “Unity Budget 2021” that would include their six key fiscal proposals.

“There is no ‘Unity Budget 2021’ if the Perikatan Nasional government rejects Pakatan Harapan’s six key fiscal and financial measures that save jobs, businesses and economic livelihood of Malaysians,” Lim Guan Eng, secretary general of  the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is a part of Pakatan, said on Twitter, referring to the ruling coalition.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will be hoping he gets support for the budget from MPs across party lines, even though the anchor party in the ruling coalition has promised to vote in its favor, because he holds only a slim two-seat majority in Parliament.

In their meeting with Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz on Sunday, Pakatan leaders said the budget must allocate more health ministry resources for fighting COVID-19.

They want the spending bill to expand social protections for the vulnerable until the end of the pandemic, extend a moratorium on loan repayments, continue a wage subsidy until the end of next March, boost education spending, and allocate expenditure for two development projects.

“We hope that these recommendations will be accepted and incorporated into the Unity Budget 2021. This Unity Budget is crucial in upholding the royal decree rejecting an emergency proclamation for the country and avoid snap general elections which will only worsen the current 3rd wave of COVID-19 infections,” the Pakatan alliance said in a statement after the meeting on Sunday.

Analysts: Opposition has leverage

On Monday, analysts told BenarNews this marked the first time that the government and the opposition had met about the budget before a spending plan was presented in parliament.

“There had been instances of bipartisan support in parliament before, but only on issues that do not affect the rakyat [the people] directly, such as the motion to condemn Israeli aggression in Palestine, but for the budget, I have not heard of this before,” Tunku Mohar Mokhtar of the International Islamic University of Malaysia told BenarNews.

According to him, the government met the opposition leaders on the king’s advice.

“In doing so, it gives the opposition an opportunity to push for its demands. And the opposition has taken advantage of this. Now, it is up to the government to consider the demands. The opposition has said that it will not support the budget that doesn't include its demands,” Mokhtar said.

Previous governments had not needed to work with the opposition on the budget, said analyst Sivamurugan Pandia of the University Science of Malaysia.

“Barisan Nasional always enjoyed a two-thirds majority [support in Parliament] ... that is why they did not need to consult the opposition before,” Pandian told BenarNews, referring to the coalition that held power for 61 years before Pakatan defeated it in the 2018 general election.

The king, who had appointed Muhyiddin as PM in March, stressed last week that the new budget was crucial in addressing the pandemic and revitalizing the economy. The monarch’s statement came after he rejected Muhyiddin’s request to declare a national emergency amid a resurgence in new COVID-19 infections.

The king said such a declaration was not needed because the government had managed to handle the pandemic. An emergency would have allow Muhyiddin’s government to suspend parliament and bypass the budget vote.

Two political analysts told BenarNews last week that the outcome could be catastrophic if Muhyiddin didn’t get the support of at least 112 of 222 MPs.

They said the Malaysian government was expected to follow the British Westminster system of government. Under this model, the government is deemed to no longer have the confidence of the majority of MPs if it fails to pass an important parliamentary motion such as the annual budget.

Session shortened

On Monday, Takiyuddin Hassan, Minister at the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law), said in parliament that the first day of the chamber’s session was shortened on the advice of health officials.

“Several staff of the senate tested positive with COVID-19 and a senate member might be infected. This new development is worrying,” Takiyuddin said.

The hours for the remaining parliament sittings in this session will be decided on a day-to-day basis, he added.

DAP’s Lim criticized the decision saying truncating the session to three hours from at least seven and a half was “unprecedented” and hindered parliament’s job, which is to debate.

“This is unprecedented. … This is important as it involves the sovereignty and supremacy of the Parliament. Do not erode the rights of members of parliament to debate,” Lim said in parliament.

Takiyuddin responded, saying the decision was based on advice by health officials.

“The [health] ministry said that Parliament is still a closed environment and although there are partitions [between the lawmakers], it’s unclear if it can prevent infections. The longer we sit together, the higher the risks,” Takiyuddin said.

The current parliament session is scheduled for 27 days from Nov. 2 to Dec. 15.

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