Malaysian opposition leaning towards deal with PM Ismail

Bipartisan deal will see opposition lawmakers backing the premier in Parliament in return for reforms

Malaysia's opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH) said yesterday that it was leaning towards accepting a deal offered by the government that would lead to a rare bipartisan truce in Parliament.

The PH presidential council said after a leadership meeting that the memorandum of understanding offered by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, if signed, would allow lawmakers to concentrate on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and Malaysia's weak economy.

Under the confidence and supply agreement (CSA) being discussed, the opposition will lend support to the Ismail administration in Parliament in return for several reforms. These include halting lawmaker defections and lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

"Harapan is inclined to accept the memorandum of understanding to save the lives and livelihoods of the people, subject to improvements to the draft which needs to be refined by both sides before it is finalised," the PH presidential council said in a statement.

"Let us harness all our strength to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, and to overcome economic decline that has hit our country," it added.

The statement was signed by leaders of the three-party PH coalition - Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim, Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu, and Democratic Action Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.

Prime Minister 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. The backing from PH in a confidence vote would insulate Datuk Seri Ismail's government from the defections that led to the collapse of the previous two governments.

The opposition leaders yesterday also called for an additional injection of RM45 billion (S$14.5 billion) into the RM65 billion Covid-19 aid fund, which has only RM8.6 billion left.

Earlier yesterday, opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar said he welcomed the parliamentary reform initiatives proposed by Mr Ismail.

"I welcome the Prime Minister's statement (on Friday) on the government's efforts to implement a number of improvements for Parliament and the government administration. This is a good start following my meeting with the PH leadership with the Prime Minister on Aug 25," Mr Anwar wrote on his Facebook page.

In a brief statement on Friday, PM Ismail said he is offering key reforms to the opposition in return for its support in Parliament.

His promises include: to limit the prime minister's term to 10 years; provide the opposition leader with the same salary and resources as a minister; set an equal number of opposition members in parliamentary select committees; have bipartisan negotiation on Bills; and amend the Constitution to allow 18-year-olds to vote.

Responding to the offer, senior PH lawmaker Dzulkefly Ahmad said there should be equal funding for all MPs, as it is a reasonable reciprocal response.

"PH is committed to ensuring that any question of political upheaval is stopped; we are ready to do that. This is our sacrifice to bring down the political temperature and ensure political stability," he told a forum on Friday night.

Despite welcoming the initiatives, Mr Anwar stressed that the Prime Minister would still need to prove his majority in the Parliament sitting that starts tomorrow.

"PH sees that there is still a need for the Prime Minister to seek a vote of confidence as soon as possible based on the King's decree during a meeting with the heads of political parties at Istana Negara on Aug 17, in order to legitimise the fact that the Prime Minister commands majority support in the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House)," said Mr Anwar.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 12, 2021, with the headline 'Malaysian opposition leaning towards deal with PM Ismail'. Subscribe