Malaysia's opposition may not back budget, says Anwar

Mr Anwar Ibrahim noted that next year's budget doesn't include the opposition's earlier demands.
Mr Anwar Ibrahim noted that next year's budget doesn't include the opposition's earlier demands.PHOTO: REUTERS

Malaysia's opposition may not support Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's budget if the government does not make changes to it, opposition politicians said yesterday.

"We are keen to pass the budget... so that we won't burden the public, frontliners or civil servants. But if the budget is not amended, do not assume that it will be easily passed," opposition leader and Parti Keadilan Rakyat president Anwar Ibrahim told Parliament.

He said that six demands made by his Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition, including the reintroduction of a blanket moratorium on bank loans, were not met in the budget tabled last Friday.

Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz must study all the proposals to manage Covid-19-related problems, said Datuk Seri Anwar.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin's eight-month-old Perikatan Nasional (PN) government holds a slim majority in Parliament, with just 113 lawmakers out of a total of 222 backing it at the last sitting. Failure to pass its first federal budget would be tantamount to a vote of no confidence and could trigger a snap election. The budget vote is slated for Nov 25.

PN coalition partner Umno has pledged support for the budget, despite internal tensions with Mr Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, has repeatedly urged all MPs to pass the budget to safeguard people's welfare during the coronavirus pandemic.

Former premier and opposition MP Mahathir Mohamad, who leads Parti Pejuang Tanah Air, has also called for amendments to the budget.

"I hope this budget would be modified in order to become more realistic. Then we can support it... We do not want to precipitate a crisis," Tun Dr Mahathir said in a statement yesterday.

Describing the budget as "mind-boggling", he questioned how the government would fund the RM322.5 billion (S$105.4 billion) it planned to spend on operations and development.

"The question that I would like to ask is where the money will come from. The deficit is said to be about RM85 billion," he said, noting that key income earners like the tourism sector and state oil company Petronas have been badly hit by the pandemic. "I suppose the government will have to borrow to implement the budget. This is estimated to increase government debt to RM1.3 trillion. That is a lot of money. If you fail to service loans, you may be bankrupted," he said.

Instead, he suggested cutting operational and development costs, such as salaries of high earners in the government, to provide food to the unemployed and those who have lost their income.

The two-time prime minister also questioned the government's economic growth estimates, which project gross domestic product (GDP) to grow 7.5 per cent next year after shrinking an estimated 4 per cent this year.

"It is expected that vaccines would put an end to the pandemic. The industries, trade and business will recover. But can they recover fully so as to achieve a GDP growth of 7.5 per cent?

"Just think. From a shrinkage of 4 per cent to growth of 7.5 per cent, the recovery would be 11.5 per cent - fantastic," said Dr Mahathir.

According to his party Pejuang, the budget does not take into account public interest, going against the spirit of the King's advice.

"What the government has done is to use the Agong's (King's) decree as a 'blank cheque' to include some aspects in the budget that lead towards political gain and set aside public interests," the party's four lawmakers said in a statement yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysia's opposition may not back budget, says Anwar'. Print Edition | Subscribe