Malaysia opposition asks for loan moratoriums, financial aid, reforms to back budget

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has proposed a "bipartisan" approach in formulating the Budget. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Loan moratoriums, Covid-19 aid and democratic reforms - these are some of the key asks of Malaysia's opposition leaders in return for supporting the government's upcoming budget.

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, who tried to usurp Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin after claiming in September to command majority support, has proposed a "bipartisan" approach in formulating the budget.

Datuk Seri Anwar, along with his Pakatan Harapan (PH) ally Democratic Action Party (DAP), had consistently called for an extension of the blanket loan moratorium that was given to over eight million Malaysian borrowers between April and September amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has so far resisted the calls for a blanket extension, instead allowing banks to offer targeted debt repayment relief to those who had lost their jobs during the pandemic.

"DAP is ready to work with all political parties to press Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to extend the loan moratorium for another six months," DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng said last Wednesday (Oct 28).

Strictly speaking, Tan Sri Muhyiddin may not need votes from his political rivals to push the budget through Parliament. His Perikatan Nasional pact still commands a slim majority with 113 of the 222 seats in the Lower House, after its biggest party - Umno - twice reaffirmed its backing last week.

But striking so-called confidence and supply agreements with opposition parties could help bolster his position and ensure the budget passes without a hitch.

The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, last week refused to grant Mr Muhyiddin emergency powers that would have suspended Parliament and allowed the government's expenditure for next year to be approved without being scrutinised by lawmakers. But he has also advised all lawmakers to back Mr Muhyiddin's budget, saying they should focus on the well-being of the people and the country.

Mr Muhyiddin has indicated that his government will listen to the opposition in order to gain bipartisan support for the budget.

"I hope all parliamentarians can put aside their political differences and pass the budget. Let's put people before all else. If we do so, we can come to an understanding with any opposition," he said during a televised address on Saturday.

However, Subang MP Wong Chen, from Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat, has said that the party's support for Mr Muhyiddin's budget should be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for democratic reforms.

Chief among these reforms is for Parliament to allow no-confidence motions against Mr Muhyiddin to be tabled and debated.

There are at least 25 no-confidence motions that have been filed for the upcoming session, but they are unlikely to be debated as the Lower House prioritises government business.

Other reform demands include equal allocations for all MPs regardless of political affiliation and a law to ensure Parliament's independence from the executive.

Parti Warisan Sabah, which is aligned with Mr Anwar's PH bloc, recently said that it would consider backing the budget if it provides greater assistance to Sabah, which is Malaysia's worst-hit state in the current third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Warisan president Shafie Apdal said last Tuesday that the party would support a budget that improved the state's health facilities and quarantine centres, as well as extended financial aid to the needy.

"... the medical and health sector is far lagging behind other states, so Budget 2021 should have a focus in resolving these issues for Sabahans," Datuk Seri Shafie said.

Since an outbreak following state elections in late September, Sabah now has almost half of the over 30,000 coronavirus infections in Malaysia. It also recorded over 100 deaths in October alone, compared with the national tally so far of 249.

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