Malaysian govt, PH opposition sign historic bipartisan deal; polls not expected before Aug 2022

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (centre) inking the cooperation deal with Pakatan Harapan on Sept 13, 2021. PHOTO: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE, MALAYSIA
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (seated, fourth from right) inking the cooperation deal with Pakatan Harapan on Sept 13, 2021. PHOTO: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE, MALAYSIA
Malaysia's King delivering his address at the 14th Parliamentary session opening in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 13, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is not expected to go to the polls for at least another year, under a historic bipartisan deal signed between the government and main opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH) on Monday (Sept 13) that paves the way for political stability and institutional reforms.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, accompanied by several members of his administration, inked the deal with PH, led by Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim, at a signing ceremony in Malaysia's Parliament, hours after the Lower House sat for the first time under Datuk Seri Ismail's administration.

Mr Ismail said in a statement that the deal, which is called the Memorandum of Understanding for Transformation and Political Stability, covered six main areas.

Among the key areas of reform is to transform administration, empower Parliament and strengthen the independence of the judiciary, Mr Ismail said.

"The 'Malaysian Family' spirit stresses unity, camaraderie and togetherness. This has manifested itself in the MOU between the government and (Harapan) this evening," he said.

The deal also outlines that Parliament will not be dissolved before August next year, meaning Malaysia will not face a general election for at least another year, said PKR's communications director Fahmi Fadzil. This was also confirmed by several other opposition leaders.

Mr Fahmi said in a tweet in Bahasa Malaysia on Monday: "PH will remain as opposition. Parliament will not be dissolved before 31.7.2022."

A Cabinet member, Federal Territories Minister Shahidan Kassim, said that part of the deal - also termed by some as a Confidence-and-Supply Agreement (CSA) - outlines that PH would abstain in any vote on key government Bills.

According to terms of the agreement reported by Malaysiakini, PH said it would back or abstain during budget and supply votes in Parliament only if Budget 2022 and other supply Bills had first been negotiated by both sides.

More details of the agreement are expected to be made public on Tuesday.

"The government is confident that this agreement will not only put aside all political differences, but enables national recovery to be done holistically and with inclusivity," Mr Ismail said.

The government and PH announced that an accord had been reached on Sunday after weeks of negotiations between the two sides.

Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah (second from left), talking to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (right) on Sept 13, 2021, as opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (left) looks on. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

But the deal came under threat a few times, including when reports emerged that Najib Razak - the former premier convicted of corruption for the 1Malaysia Development Berhad financial scandal - will be given an adviser role in the new government.

The tide turned in favour of the deal on Friday when Mr Ismail announced a series of specific reform offers to be undertaken by his government.

Among those proposed were to limit the term of the prime minister to 10 years, the tabling an anti-party-hopping Bill in Parliament, and the implementation of the long-delayed lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18.

The agreement outlines that the Bills for limiting the PM's term, anti-hopping and the new voting age reform must pass through Parliament in the first half of next year.

Parliamentary reforms must be tabled by the second House meeting of 2022. All reforms outlined in the agreement are to be carried out within a year, before an election can be called.

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Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun, however, said the CSA could prove to be tricky for the opposition.

Dr Oh told The Straits Times that Mr Ismail leads a similar government to that of his predecessor, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who was forced to resign following pressure and criticism over his government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With this agreement, the opposition would have to share blame in the future if the government fails to counter the pandemic and revive the economy, Dr Oh said.

He said that while a CSA would provide political stability, a stable government is "not an able government".
"The ruling coalition is made up of elements that are corrupt, which are incompetent," Dr Oh added. Several government MPs - including Najib, are facing court charges over corruption, while the many Cabinet ministers who were seen as underperformers during Mr Muhyiddin's administration have been retained by Mr Ismail.

PH has 88 seats in Malaysia's 222-seat Parliament, whereas Mr Ismail commands 114 MPs, giving him a mere four-seat majority.

Two seats in Parliament are vacant. Other opposition parties, mainly former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's Pejuang party and Sabah-based Warisan, are currently not part of the bipartisan deal.

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