Malaysian government, opposition reach deal on reforms

KUALA LUMPUR • Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Malaysia's main opposition coalition yesterday announced a breakthrough in talks for a confidence-and-supply agreement (CSA), saying that a "memorandum of understanding" will be inked when Parliament reopens for the year today.

An accord has been up in the air since it was first broached at a meeting between Pakatan Harapan (PH) chiefs and Datuk Seri Ismail on Aug 25, just days after he was sworn into office with a slim majority in Parliament.

The Prime Minister, who is an Umno vice-president, can count on the support of just 114 members of the 222-seat Parliament, where two seats are currently vacant.

His support base mirrors that of the previous Perikatan Nasional government led by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Mr Muhyiddin's government fell after some Umno MPs withdrew their support for him. They backed Mr Ismail, who was the previous deputy prime minister, as his successor, giving him the same slim majority Mr Muhyiddin had in Parliament.

"With this understanding, focus and priority will be given by both sides to a new political landscape through transformation initiatives and reforms to governance, especially empowering Parliament," said a joint statement between a ministerial committee and PH representatives.

Official sources told The Straits Times that the deal will see PH's 89 MPs "abstain or support supply Bills and motions whose failure will be understood as a loss of confidence" for the government.

"For example, if we are genuinely consulted on next year's budget, then there will be support, otherwise, it will just be abstention," said a top PH leader on condition of anonymity as details are under wraps until the 5pm signing today.

Last Friday, Mr Ismail announced that the government would offer a number of reforms, including enacting anti-party hopping laws, lowering the voting age to 18, limiting the term of a premier to a decade, and ensuring Bills will be negotiated and jointly agreed before being tabled in Parliament.

Since the initial meeting a fortnight ago, PH lawmakers had been reluctant to term the deal with the government an "agreement", with various other terminology being considered to avoid the perception of the opposition giving a prime minister from a long-hated foe, Umno, a free pass.

But political scientist Wong Chin Huat told ST that "as long as it is a deal between the government and opposition that guarantees the government's survival on votes on confidence or the budget, et cetera, it is a CSA, even if it's called a love letter".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2021, with the headline 'Malaysian government, opposition reach deal on reforms'. Subscribe