Malaysia PM Anwar gets Parliament’s backing in confidence vote

The confidence motion for Malaysian PM Anwar Ibrahim was passed by just voice votes, which usually indicates strong majority support. PHOTO: BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s motion of confidence was passed in Parliament on Monday, winning crucial support for his position as the premier after an election in November returned an unprecedented hung Parliament.

The confidence motion for Datuk Seri Anwar, 75, was passed by a voice vote – which usually indicates strong majority support – in the 222-member Lower House during a special Parliament sitting, the first time that Parliament had sat since he became Prime Minister on Nov 24.

“More voices have agreed, hence the motion has been passed,” said Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul, who presided over the sitting.

The exact majority number could not be determined as the opposition chose not to call for a bloc vote.

The motion was tabled by Deputy Prime Minister Fadillah Yusof. A total of 12 lawmakers from both sides of the political divide debated the motion.

Newly installed opposition leader Hamzah Zainudin from Perikatan Nasional (PN), which has 74 lawmakers, dubbed the confidence motion a “gimmick”, as it took place after a deal had already been signed between all the parties in Mr Anwar’s government.

Under the deal, called a memorandum of agreement, all parties undertook to back Mr Anwar in any confidence motion or supply Bills. They also agreed that rogue MPs who failed to do so would lose their lawmaker status under the new anti-party-hopping law.

Datuk Seri Hamzah said: “When you sign an agreement to force someone to vote for you, we feel it is (done) under duress. It is not fair for some MPs. Then you’re not sure if people really support you or simply because of this agreement”

The PN MPs abstained from the confidence motion, with PN chief whip Takiyuddin Hassan saying they did not want to legitimise the “unconstitutional” coalition agreement.

Mr Anwar leads what is dubbed by his administration as a “unity government”, after the Nov 19 General Election resulted in a hung Parliament. It comprises his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, and multiple smaller outfits and independent MPs.

Having super-majority backing would allow Mr Anwar’s government to make constitutional amendments, in addition to passing crucial supply Bills that need only a simple majority to gain passage in Parliament. The last prime minister to command this level of support in Parliament was Tun Abdullah Badawi, whose BN controlled an overwhelming 198 out of 222 Parliament seats just before the general election in 2008. No Malaysian party has single-handedly won a super-majority since.

On Monday, Mr Anwar’s government also voted in its candidate for Parliament Speaker with a strong majority.

Datuk Johari Abdul, a former three-term MP and former chief whip for Mr Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), was elected as Speaker with 147 votes, just one shy of a two-thirds majority. 

PN had nominated Tan Sri Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, a former home minister and former senator, for the role of Speaker, but he obtained only 74 votes – all from PN, the only coalition in the opposition.

The government also managed to elect its deputy speaker candidates – Madam Alice Lau from PH component Democratic Action Party and Datuk Ramli Mohd Nor from BN. They are MPs for the wards of Lanang and Cameron Highlands respectively. Mr Ramli was elected with 148 votes.

Mr Anwar’s government is expected to pass a temporary supplementary expenditure Bill in Parliament on Tuesday, while it prepares a new iteration of the 2023 federal budget, which did not gain parliamentary passage before the Lower House was dissolved in October to pave the way for the Nov 19 polls.

His government is seeking RM56 billion (S$17 billion) in supplementary expenditure, a fraction of the RM372.3 billion budget that was tabled by Mr Anwar’s predecessor Ismail Sabri Yaakob in October, just before Parliament was dissolved.

A new budget is expected to be tabled by Mr Anwar in early 2023, as he looks to further consolidate his position before crucial state assembly elections in mid-2023. These polls will ostensibly act as a barometer for the level of support and approval his government has.

Despite winning only 74 seats in Parliament, PN – primarily led by Malay Muslim parties Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Islam SeMalaysia – is seen as leading a “green wave” of support in the Malay heartland and stands a strong chance of making further gains in the six state assemblies that are due to hold polls in 2023.

Shortly after being appointed as PM, Mr Anwar’s PH lost its long-held Padang Serai ward to PN with a 16,000 vote majority. PH’s government partner BN managed to retain the Tioman state seat in Pahang only by a three-digit majority, after a strong challenge by PN.

Both seats held an election on Dec 7, after the deaths of candidates in the days leading up to the Nov 19 general election forced the Election Commission to delay the election for the two wards.

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