Following weeks of uncertainty, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's first federal budget - the biggest in the country's history - cleared a final hurdle to be ratified by Parliament yesterday, after surviving a parliamentary vote.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) government was backed by 111 MPs, compared with 108 MPs who voted against it, after a bloc voting procedure was triggered by the opposition.
The RM322.5 billion (S$106 billion) budget will now be sent to the Upper House - the Senate - to be ratified, before going into effect.
However, Upper House approvals are generally a formality in the Malaysian legislature.
The victory for Mr Muhyiddin comes on the back of renewed doubts regarding his majority in the week preceding the final budget vote.
Earlier this week, speculation was once again rife that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had managed to secure the backing of several government MPs from Umno to undo Mr Muhyiddin's parliamentary majority.
But this was subsequently denied by Datuk Seri Anwar's faction, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Mr Anwar, who is PKR president, has been claiming a parliamentary majority for the past three months.
On Monday, Mr Muhyiddin's predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, also indicated possible failure of the budget while announcing that he was teaming up with a senior government MP, Tan Sri Razaleigh Hamzah, to offer to form a government should the budget fail.
But Tengku Razaleigh's move did not appear to have any bearing on the voting pattern of other Umno lawmakers, showing that Mr Muhyiddin still retained the support of at least 111 MPs in the 220-member House, following the death of two lawmakers earlier this year.
The opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) decided not to call for bloc voting during the policy-stage vote for the budget last month. But yesterday, they challenged the budget twice in quick succession through division voting.
PH called the budget a document that did not achieve its own objectives, and urged even government lawmakers to vote it down.
But on both occasions, the outcome was the same, with the government obtaining 111 votes to the opposition's 108. Only one MP, Tengku Razaleigh, was absent.
The voting pattern also showed that all MPs who were present in the Lower House had voted according to party lines.
On Monday, Dr Mahathir urged lawmakers to vote according to their conscience and not party lines. "The MPs should think about the country first, not about themselves," he said at a joint news conference with Tengku Razaleigh.
The budget victory would likely solidify Mr Muhyiddin's grip as prime minister for the imme-diate future. He said the vote reflected acknowledgement by MPs that the budget is meant to help Malaysians hit by the pandemic.
"The stand of the MPs... also proved that they honoured the call by the King for this budget to be passed without any hindrance, especially at a time when the country is dealing with the Covid-19 threat," he said on Facebook.
Despite constant questions regarding his majority since assuming the post in March, Mr Muhyiddin's government has managed to pass a coronavirus relief Bill, and now the federal budget, in Parliament. This is despite his majority never being debated or put to a vote in Parliament until yesterday.
Numerous confidence and no-confidence motions have been filed against the Prime Minister, but none of them have seen the light of day in Parliament, where government Bills are prioritised.
This meant that the Bills in Parliament acted as a barometer of Mr Muhyiddin's parliamentary support.
Approved changes in Malaysia's Budget 2021
The Malaysian budget for next year was ratified by Parliament yesterday. The following are among the changes approved in Budget 2021.
• Automatic loan relief approval for B40 communities and small businesses
The opposition and several government MPs had threatened not to back the budget, which was unveiled on Nov 6, if a loan moratorium scheme - first implemented from April until September - was not extended.
Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz later said banks have been told to grant automatic moratorium approvals for targeted communities, especially for the B40 (bottom 40 per cent of Malaysian income earners) and small businesses.
• Broader retirement fund withdrawal
Following demands by several Umno lawmakers, the budget will provide a broader withdrawal scope for those wanting to tap their retirement funds in the Employees Provident Fund to ease current financial difficulties.
The government previously made withdrawals available for up to two million account holders, allowing them to withdraw RM6,000 (S$1,970) a year.
The government has raised the eligibility to eight million account holders, for a withdrawal amount of up to RM10,000.
• Budget cut for propaganda unit
Much attention was given to a plan to resurrect the Special Affairs Department (Jasa), a government propaganda unit, with an annual allocation of RM85 million.
The move to relaunch Jasa, since renamed Community Communications Department or J-Kom, was widely panned by both government and opposition MPs.
The department will still be relaunched, with its allocation cut to RM40 million.
• Broader aid to front-liners
The government initially announced a one-off RM500 aid to all health front-liners, but later expanded the special aid to all front-liners, including military and police personnel.
• Extra allocation for Sabah
An extra RM50 million allocation has been okayed for easternmost state Sabah to help it combat the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout.
Sabah has become the state worst hit by the pandemic, registering a quarter of all cases and deaths from the coronavirus in Malaysia.