Malaysian PM Muhyiddin's federal budget passes Parliament test

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's first-ever federal budget was surprisingly passed by a voice vote. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's first-ever federal budget survived a Parliament vote on Thursday (Nov 26), ensuring the continuity for his administration amid continued political uncertainty in the country.

Budget 2021 was surprisingly passed by a voice vote at the second reading in Parliament, with the opposition failing to muster the necessary 15 Members of Parliament to ask for bloc voting. It will now move to a three-week-long committee stage of debates before a third and final reading is approved.

At RM322.5 billion (S$106 billion), the budget will be Malaysia's biggest.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact had just 113 MPs - one more than the 112 needed for a simple majority - when he first presented the budget on Nov 6.

The spending plan had drawn criticism from his government allies Barisan Nasional (BN), who hold the most number of seats in PN.

BN MPs unanimously backed the Bill on Thursday, after weeks of suggestions that indicated that their support for the expansionary budget would be conditional on certain demands being met.

Some of these demands, as well as requests from opposition MPs, were accommodated, said Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz on Thursday, as he announced several changes to the budget.

These included enhancing measures to tackle the economic fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic such as allowing more people and businesses to be eligible for loan repayment exemptions and withdrawals from the state pension fund, as well as allocating more funds for front-line workers and Sabah state, one of the worst-affected by the virus.

Datuk Seri Zafrul also announced that the RM85.5 million originally allocated for a revived government propaganda unit would be reduced, after MPs from both sides of the aisle slammed it as a misplaced priority.

Mr Muhyiddin, in a statement, thanked lawmakers who supported the Bill, especially those from his Perikatan Nasional coalition.

He pointed out that the eleventh hour changes to the budget showed that the PN government was "open to different opinions and criticisms."

Despite spending past weeks sounding their displeasure over the Budget, a vast majority of opposition MPs chose not to object to it or even force a division, or bloc, voting process, which means counting votes for and against the Bill.

Thursday's proceedings also displayed dissonance within the 108-strong opposition bloc.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who heads Parti Pejuang Tanah Air was among 13 MPs who supported a request for a bloc vote.

He was joined by a few lawmakers from Parti Amanah Negara, which is a member of the Pakatan Harapan coalition led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. The two other parties in PH, Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP), opted not to support the bloc vote. PKR and DAP have 80 MPs between them.

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Mr Muhyiddin last month sought an emergency declaration from the King, which would have allowed him to bypass parliamentary approval for the budget and avoid a snap election if he lost the budget vote.

The King rejected the proposal but instead urged all lawmakers to pass the budget to help the government weather the pandemic, which has sent millions of people into partial lockdowns since October.

The Royal Palace on Thursday thanked lawmakers who it said "supported His Majesty's advice" by helping the budget's passage.

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