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Muhyiddin tightens grip on Perikatan after budget vote, say analysts

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin strengthened Perikatan Nasional (PN)’s hold on federal power when Budget 2021 was passed at the policy stage despite objections from certain quarters, said analysts.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin poses for a picture at Malaysian Parliament in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin poses for a picture at Malaysian Parliament in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin strengthened Perikatan Nasional (PN)’s hold on federal power when Budget 2021 was passed at the policy stage despite objections from certain quarters, said analysts.

They said that when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition did not call for a division vote, they were indirectly acknowledging the budget, which is seen as a sign of confidence in the Malaysian government.

When opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim made the call not to reject the budget, it meant he either he did not have the numbers to form a new government or that there is a much bigger strategy at play, the analysts said.

Tasmania University’s Asian Studies professor James Chin said Mr Muhyiddin came out of the tussle unscathed with Budget 2021 being passed on Thursday (Nov 26).

“The bottom line is, the budget process is more or less over, Muhyiddin’s hand is strengthened politically,” he said.

PN was under pressure when ally United Malays National Organisation (Umno) initially opposed the budget when the initial bill did not include an extension to loan moratoriums and higher withdrawals from the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).

However, before the policy vote was called, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz made several amendments to the budget to include the two Umno demands.

Prof Chin said when that happened, Mr Anwar wanted to save face and would not want to put his coalition in more jeopardy by calling for a division vote.

“Basically, Anwar cannot afford to lose face. If he had gone for an individual vote, it would show his numbers.

“The opposition was looking at the budget as a proxy confidence vote. Since they were not sure of the numbers, they did not go for individual vote.

“Can you imagine a different kind of furore if it called for a divisional vote and found out they were severely lacking in numbers?

“That would have been a big loss of face for Anwar, people will not take him seriously even if they don’t take him seriously now,” Prof Chin said.

Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Dr Oh Ei Sun said since Umno’s demands were met, PH was essentially played out during the budget vote and if they stood up, that would have been a poor strategy.

“The two purported conditions were met, extension of moratorium and early EPF withdrawal.

“Umno backbenchers supported the budget, it is almost meaningless for PH to try to vote against it. It would not succeed. It looks very bad on them. It shows they do not have the majority,” he said.

Dr Oh said Mr Anwar’s strategy is to save the fight for another day, and keep the purported numbers he has on his side to be proven before the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

“You don’t let it be explicit, you do not have the majority. You can preserve the ambiguous political situation. Umno is making use of Anwar, as much as Anwar is making use of them.

“Under the current circumstances, they are making use of each other. Umno’s political ploy was met, so they have ditched Anwar for now,” he said, adding that the situation may change in the future.

Ilham Centre’s executive director Hisommudin Bakar said it was a poor showing by PH, especially Anwar, when they were unprepared for the budget vote.

The initial plan of derailing the budget was strong; the opposition did not even bother to come up with an alternative budget like they previously did.

“PH did not have enough preparation to face the budget. They disappointed so many people when they did not even have an alternative budget.

“They have years of experience, they should have put up a proper alternative budget as they were in government for 22 months before. If an alternative budget was tabled, they would have rejected the budget tabled by PN.”

After the budget vote, Democratic Action Party's Lim Kit Siang said the opposition did not vote against the budget as they were adhering to the Malaysian king’s advice to support the budget since the funds are crucial for medical supplies and front-liners combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, Mr Hisommudin said the Malaysian king simply advised and did not issue an explicit order. The opposition could have opposed it if they wanted.

"You, as the opposition, are supposed to oppose, this is the normal practice in the Malaysian political system,” he said.

Mr Anwar said the opposition did not oppose the budget as there were concessions made to the initial supply bill and PH would oppose some parts later. THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT

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Malaysia Malaysian politics Muhyiddin Yassin Anwar Ibrahim

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