Malaysian PM’s slender parliamentary majority faces crucial budget vote

KUALA LUMPUR: The fate of Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s eight-month-old administration was hanging in the balance ahead of a crucial budget vote on Friday.

A slender majority in parliament has led to increasing doubts over the premier’s grip on power.

“If the no-confidence motion is passed, it could lead to either a change in the government with a new PM that commands a majority or a dissolution of the Parliament with an early general election to be called,” Sunway University economics professor, Yeah Kim Leng, told Arab News on Tuesday.

Malaysia’s parliament opened on Monday, but the session was cut short after it emerged that six attendees, including a senator, had tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), resulting in an unprecedented decision to conduct sittings only until 1 p.m. through Nov. 5.

Out of 64 motions, 27 were raised for Muhyiddin’s leadership. Only two were in support of his government. The numbers matter.

Muhyiddin’s government is presenting the budget as the PM races against time to garner support for the make-or-break vote.

“All Muhyiddin needs is a simple majority of 112 seats in the 222-seat parliament. But should the government fail to obtain enough votes to pass an important parliamentary motion, the government is deemed to no longer hold the confidence of the majority MPs with Muhyiddin only leading with a two-seat majority,” constitutional lawyer, Lim Wei Jiet, told Arab News.

In recent weeks, the premier’s position has become increasingly shaky after challenges were brought forward by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who claimed to have a majority in parliament.

Ibrahim presented his claims formally to King Al-Sultan Abdullah on Oct. 12 but was left in the lurch after the monarch refused to support them.

Malaysia held its general elections in 2018 but has witnessed two change of governments since due to political instability.

Muhyiddin was elected to office after former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad stepped down abruptly in February.

In the months that followed, Muhyiddin has been able to prove his majority only a few times.

Last month, his request to declare a state of emergency – to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country – was rejected by the king, resulting in a loss of face for the premier.

Nevertheless, the king expressed “full confidence” in Muhyiddin’s ability to lead the country through the health crisis and urged lawmakers to vote for the budget.

It was a win for the opposition who argued that a state of emergency would have allowed Muhyiddin to pass the budget without a vote.

Yeah said the political uncertainty arising from Muhyiddin losing support in parliament could “exacerbate the ongoing health and economic impacts. The likely consequence is a much weaker recovery. The triple challenges facing the country will dampen consumer and investor confidence leading to lower spending.”

Under these circumstances, he added, the economy needed “a more expansionary budget to shore up businesses, slash job and income losses, and alleviate the economic hardships faced by the distressed low-income groups.”

Last Sunday, Malaysia’s Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul said that the budget allocation for 2021 would be bigger than the $71 billion budget 2020, adding that the government would not cut back on its development spending.

Zafrul, however, did not confirm the amount that has been set aside for economic recovery and growth.

Malaysia’s economy has taken a severe beating from the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering a 17 percent contraction in gross domestic product (GDP) mainly driven by a decline in domestic demand due to the lockdowns.

As of Tuesday, Malaysia had reported 834 new cases of COVID-19 and 251 deaths.

Lim said Muhyiddin’s litmus test on Friday could depend on whether or not he was able to prove a majority.

“The PM would ordinarily tender his resignation as he has proven that the support is not on his side and this has happened to William Gladstone’s government in the UK in 1885 and its minority government in Australia in 1941.”

Both the governments were defeated on the budget votes leading to their premiers resigning from their posts.

Other experts, however, struck a more optimistic tone.

“The 25 motions against Muhyiddin would not see the daylight because these motions were individual motions,” said Malaysia Technology University geostrategist, Prof. Azmi Hassan.

“It’s been Malaysia Parliament’s practice that government motion will take precedence over individual motions and the 25 motions of no confidence are regarded as individual motions. And the speaker of the parliament has stated that he will give priority to government motions which include the main motion of budget 2021,” Azmi said.

He added that the opposition could “demonstrate their dismay” toward Muhyiddin’s administration during the budget vote. “But, again, the king and majority of the people demanded all members of parliament not to use the budget vote as a means to pursue a vote of no confidence, so I don’t think the motion of no confidence will be debated in the parliament.”

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