Malaysia’s opposition may not back budget: Anwar Ibrahim

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

KUALA LUMPUR  - Malaysia’s opposition may not support Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s 2021 budget if the government doesn’t make changes to it, opposition politicians said on Monday (Nov 9).

“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, have not been 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 government holds a slim majority, with just 113 lawmakers out of a total of 222 backing it during the last Parliamentary sitting.

Failure to pass its first federal budget would be tantamount to a no-confidence vote in the government 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 MPs from both sides 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, 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 need not be bribed for our support. We do not want to precipitate a crisis,” Tun Dr Mahathir said in his statement on Monday.

Describing the budget as “mind-boggling,” the 95-year-old statesman questioned how the government would fund the RM322.5 billion (S$105.3 billion) it planned to spend on operations and development. 

“It was amazing. It was the biggest ever ... The question that I would like to ask is where the money will come from. The deficit is said to be about RM85 billion. It is bigger than the development budget of RM69 billion,” he said, pointing out that two of the nation’s income earners, the tourism sector and oil firm Petronas, have been badly-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Income and corporate tax is also unlikely to amount to two-thirds of the normal figures pre-pandemic, he noted.

“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 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 Gross Domestic Product (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 Dr Mahathir’s party Pejuang, the budget does not take into account public interest and goes 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 on Monday.