Malaysian PM Ismail offers reforms to opposition in return for support in Parliament

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's proposed reforms include laws to stem party defections.
Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's proposed reforms include laws to stem party defections.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob took steps to stabilise his government on Friday (Sept 10) by offering key reforms to the opposition in return for their support in Parliament.

The proposed reforms, which include laws to stem party defections, brings the government closer to sealing a confidence and supply agreement with the country's main opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH).

A confidence and supply agreement typically sees the opposition party agreeing to either abstain or support the government during key parliamentary votes - such as confidence motions and expenditure and supply Bills, in return for certain reforms or legislation agreed upon by both sides.

Talks for the agreement began more than two weeks ago.

The Straits Times understands that another round of negotiations between PH and Datuk Seri Ismail's supporters took place on Friday before the announcement was made.

In a brief statement on Friday, Mr Ismail - who is three weeks into his job as Malaysia's ninth prime minister - said that his government was committing to tabling a Bill to stem party hopping or defections in Parliament.

Mass defections led by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin caused the PH government to collapse early last year, while the withdrawal of support from several government MPs led to Mr Muhyiddin's government losing its majority in August.

Mr Ismail said that there will be a term limit of 10 years for the post of prime minister, while plans to lower the voting age to 18 years old will also be implemented. Malaysia has an election every five years.

Another key reform will be to provide the leader of the opposition, currently Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, a salary and facilities equivalent to that accorded to a minister.

"This offer is made to create a new political landscape by implementing transformation and renewal in administration, especially in empowering Parliament," Mr Ismail said.

Mr Ismail said that the list of reforms had been agreed on during the Cabinet meeting on Friday.

Mr Ismail had called on PH leaders for a discussion days after being sworn in as premier, even before he formed his Cabinet in late August.

However, the confidence and supply agreement was thrown into doubt in recent days after Mr Ismail backed away from holding a confidence vote in Parliament.

Prospects for cooperation with the opposition also appeared to dim, following reports that Mr Ismail might appoint former prime minister Najib Razak - who has been sentenced to 12 years' jail for graft related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal - as a special adviser in his administration.

Friday's announcement, however, indicates a breakthrough in the negotiations between Mr Ismail's government and the opposition.

Mr Ismail leads a fragile alliance of three major coalitions that holds only 114 seats among Malaysia's 220 MPs, giving him only a four-seat majority.

PH has 88 lawmakers in Parliament.