Malaysian PM open to working with opposition on budget

A Sabah resident undergoing Covid-19 testing last Friday. The key demands of Malaysia's opposition leaders, in return for supporting the government's upcoming budget, include an extension of loan moratoriums as well as Covid-19 aid, such as for Sabah
A Sabah resident undergoing Covid-19 testing last Friday. The key demands of Malaysia's opposition leaders, in return for supporting the government's upcoming budget, include an extension of loan moratoriums as well as Covid-19 aid, such as for Sabah, the worst-hit state in the third wave of the pandemic.PHOTO: BERNAMA

Loan moratoriums, Covid-19 aid and democratic reforms - these are some of the key demands of Malaysia's opposition leaders in return for supporting the government's upcoming budget.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who tried to take over Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's post after claiming in September to command majority support, has proposed a "bipartisan" approach in formulating the budget.

Datuk Seri Anwar, along with his Pakatan Harapan (PH) ally Democratic Action Party, had consistently called for an extension of the blanket loan moratorium that was given to over eight million Malaysian borrowers between April and September, amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has so far resisted the calls for a blanket extension, instead allowing banks to offer targeted debt repayment relief to those who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Yesterday, PH submitted its list of recommendations on the budget to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, which included a request for the loan moratorium and for wage subsidies to be extended until the end of next March, reported The Star.

PH secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said it also proposed increased development expenditure on Internet connectivity and water infrastructure.

"We hope our recommendations will be incorporated into the budget," he said.

Strictly speaking, Tan Sri Muhyiddin may not need votes from his political rivals to push the budget through Parliament.

His Perikatan Nasional pact still commands a slim majority, with 113 of the 222 seats in the Lower House, after its biggest party - Umno - twice reaffirmed its backing last week.

But striking so-called confidence and supply agreements with opposition parties could help bolster his position and ensure the budget passes without a hitch.

The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, last week refused to grant Mr Muhyiddin emergency powers that would have suspended Parliament and allowed the government's expenditure for next year to be approved without being scrutinised by lawmakers.

But he has also advised all lawmakers to back Mr Muhyiddin's budget, saying they should focus on the well-being of the people and the country.

Mr Muhyiddin has indicated that his government will listen to the opposition in order to gain bipartisan support for the budget.

"I hope all parliamentarians can put aside their political differences and pass the budget," he said during a televised address last Saturday.

"Let's put people before all else.

"If we do so, we can come to an understanding with any opposition."

But Subang MP Wong Chen, from Mr Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat, has said the party's support for Mr Muhyiddin's budget should be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for democratic reforms.

Chief among these reforms is for Parliament to allow confidence motions against Mr Muhyiddin to be tabled and debated.

There are at least 25 no-confidence motions that have been filed for the upcoming session, but they are unlikely to be debated as the Lower House prioritises government business.

Other reform demands include equal allocations for all MPs regardless of political affiliation and a law to ensure Parliament's independence from the executive.

Parti Warisan Sabah, which is aligned to Mr Anwar's PH bloc, has requested greater assistance for Sabah, Malaysia's worst-hit state in the current third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Warisan president Shafie Apdal said last Tuesday that the party would support a budget that improves the state's health facilities and quarantine centres, as well as extends financial aid to the needy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysian PM open to working with opposition on budget'. Subscribe