Malaysia's opposition unimpressed by budget, says bipartisan demands not met

Malaysian Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz (front 2-R) presents the 2021 budget at Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Nov 6, 2020.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition on Friday (Nov 6) said the federal budget tabled by the Muhyiddin Yassin administration lacked a clear direction for economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic, as several bipartisan demands made by the opposition remained unfulfilled in the budget.

Their criticisms raise the question of whether the opposition will back this so-called Unity Budget as the Malaysian King repeatedly has called for.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said the government's revenue projection was "worrying" and its lack of direction for an economic recovery plan is the "biggest weakness" of the RM322 billion (S$105 billion) budget, which was presented by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz.

"This budget does not portray how we can stimulate and develop the economy, and also does not address the issue of unemployment and those who have lost their jobs," Datuk Seri Anwar said in a Facebook video shortly after the budget was tabled.

Mr Anwar's colleague in Parti Keadilan Rakyat MP Wong Chen pointed out in a series of tweets that several of the six demands put forward by the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition were not fully met by the government.

"The Ministry of Finance, in terms of money allocated, ignored the bulk of six key PH recommendations. Is this sayonara to the Unity Budget idea?" Mr Chen asked.

Democratic Action Party (DAP) senator Liew Chin Tong, a former deputy minister, said that he wished the government had been "bolder" in creating jobs via the budget.

"The government seems overly cautious and attempting fiscal consolidation too soon even when the economy is still on life support," Mr Liew wrote on his Twitter account.

PH made six key recommendations to be included in the budget, and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng previously warned that its support for the budget hinges on the inclusion of the recommendations, chief among those a reintroduction of a blanket moratorium on bank loans.

Umno, a member of Prime Minister Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, had also made a similar demand to extend the loan moratorium.

But the budget presented only had provisions for targeted loan assistance focused mostly on low-income households.

The PN government controls 113 seats in the 222-strong Malaysian Parliament, giving it a precarious two-seat majority to pass the crucial budget, if it chooses to do so without backing from the opposition.

Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, has urged all Malaysian MPs to lend bipartisan support and pass the budget as Malaysia battles the coronavirus, with a record 1,755 daily cases logged on Friday.

However, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said that modifications could still be made to the budget to ensure that all parties are able to agree and pass the crucial expenditure Bill.

"It would appear that some of the major demands of not only the opposition but also Umno as a ruling coalition partner, such as outright extension of loan repayment moratorium, have not been addressed in the budget proposal," Dr Oh told The Straits Times.

"In the days to come, amendments would likely be made to accommodate such seemingly bipartisan, albeit populist, proposals such that the budget Bill could be smoothly passed," he added.

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