Malaysian MPs get busy in new Parliament session

Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Parliament yesterday. First up on PH's agenda is Thursday's midterm review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, a five-year economic blueprint. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrah
Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim greeting veteran MP Lim Kit Siang after taking his oath as a Member of Parliament in Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur yesterday. In the new parliamentary session, the five-month-old PH government will need to tackle key economic challenges amid complaints about high costs, concerns over the economy and the country's high debt level.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Parliament yesterday. First up on PH's agenda is Thursday's midterm review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, a five-year economic blueprint. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrah
Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Parliament yesterday. First up on PH's agenda is Thursday's midterm review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, a five-year economic blueprint. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PH govt's agenda includes tabling of Budget, motion to abolish death penalty

Malaysian lawmakers will have their plates full in the new parliamentary session that started yes-terday, with the five-month-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) government tabling its first Budget on Nov 2 and planning to reverse some of the previous administration's policies.

First up is Thursday's midterm review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, a five-year economic blueprint.

"In this current session, with all the dust of the elections finally settled, all eyes will be on which (aspects) of the legislative agenda the PH government will prioritise," said analyst Amir Fareed Rahim of political consultancy KRA Group.

"There is a long list of legislation which will be debated, but most of the attention will likely be on the fiscal policy direction of the government. Key milestones on this front include the 11th Malaysia Plan mid-term review by the Prime Minister and the tabling of the 2019 Budget."

Unlike the first parliamentary session, held between July 17 and Aug 16, when the public was still in a honeymoon period with PH lawmakers, the four-party coalition must now get down to serious business amid complaints that prices of goods and services have not come down, concerns about the global economy slowing down, and the high debt level left behind by the previous Barisan Nasional government.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has said that Malaysians must brace themselves for "pain and sacrifice" in the new Budget as the government tries to cut RM1 trillion (S$330 billion) in debt and liabilities.

Cabinet ministers are understood to be debating behind closed doors over how much government expenditure can be slashed without hurting the Malaysian economy.

It is understood that the government's Economic Planning Unit is forecasting 4.8 per cent, 5 per cent and 5.2 per cent growth, respectively, for the years 2018 to 2020. This would be lower than the 5.9 per cent achieved last year.

TIMELINE NOT AN ISSUE

No, I don't think that is an issue as far as I am concerned. Let him have the space and latitude to continue, unaffected by the constraints of time or pressure. That is very important.

DATUK SERI ANWAR IBRAHIM, on whether Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has indicated a timeline for handing over the premiership.

CONTRIBUTING AS MP

I have said to Prime Minister Mahathir that I will only support and give my contribution through Parliament and parliamentary reforms, but of course I will interact with the ministers and MPs; that is part of the job of a Member of Parliament.

MR ANWAR, on what he sees as his role for the time being.

APPOINTMENT WELCOME

Of course I am happy. He is from the same (PH) party.

DR MAHATHIR, when asked about Mr Anwar's return as an MP.

WIN-WIN OPPORTUNITY

They know if they don't handle the political relationship properly, it will be a one-term PH government. Mahathir knows this is the only opportunity to recast himself as the man who saves Malaysia. Anwar knows this is the only opportunity for him to be PM. So, both will hold off fighting to meet each other's needs.

PROFESSOR JAMES CHIN, of the Asia Institute of the University of Tasmania.

PH lawmakers will also be moving to fulfil some of the election promises in the current sitting.

These include a motion to abolish the death penalty, a decision that may prove controversial in Muslim-majority Malaysia, which has long given drug offenders and convicted killers the mandatory death sentence. The death penalty is to be replaced with a jail term of at least 30 years, de facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong said on the first day of Parliament yesterday.

The government is also expected to table a Bill for MPs to declare their assets, and debate Malaysia's new foreign policy. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, touched on Palestine, Myanmar's Rohingya issue and the global trade war.

Debate will likely be heated on the abolition of the death penalty, among others, noted Mr Amir.

"Given the higher-quality debate in the last sitting of Parliament compared with when Barisan Nasional was in government, we can expect more heated and intense debate in the House as the Pakatan Harapan government policy direction takes shape," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysian MPs get busy in new Parliament session'. Print Edition | Subscribe