KUALA LUMPUR - Following weeks of uncertainty, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's first federal budget - the biggest in the country's history - cleared a final hurdle to be ratified by Parliament on Tuesday (Dec 15), after surviving a parliamentary vote.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional government was backed by 111 MPs, compared with 108 MPs who voted against it, after a bloc voting procedure was triggered by the opposition.
The RM322.5 billion (S$105 billion) budget will now be sent to the Upper House, the Senate, to be ratified, before coming into effect.
However, Upper House approvals are generally a formality in the Malaysian legislature.
The victory for Mr Muhyiddin comes on the back of renewed doubts regarding his majority in the week preceding the final budget vote.
Earlier this week, speculation was once again rife that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had managed to secure the backing of several government MPs from Umno to undo Mr Muhyiddin's majority. But this was subsequently denied by Datuk Seri Anwar's faction, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
Mr Anwar, the PKR president, has been claiming parliamentary majority for the past three months and even had an audience with Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, in October to convince the ruler of his majority claim.
On Monday, Mr Muhyiddin's predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, also indicated possible failure of the budget while announcing that he was teaming up with a senior government MP, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, to offer forming a government should the budget fail.
Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh, the longest serving MP in Umno - the biggest component of Mr Muhyiddin's government - had called the PN administration "illegitimate" and said he would not back the budget.
But Mr Tengku Razaleigh's move did not appear to have a bearing on the voting pattern of other Umno lawmakers, showing that PM Muhyiddin still retained the support of at least 111 MPs in the 220-member house, following the death of two lawmakers earlier this year.
The opposition Pakatan Harapan decided not to call for bloc voting during the policy-stage vote for the budget last month. But on Tuesday they decided to challenge the budget twice in quick succession through division voting.
PH called the budget as a document that did not achieve its own objectives and urged even government lawmakers to vote it down.
But on both occasions, the outcome was the same, with the government obtaining 111 votes to the opposition's 108. Only one MP, Tengku Razaleigh, was absent.
The voting pattern also showed that all MPs who were present in the lower house had voted according to party lines.
Dr Mahathir on Monday urged lawmakers to vote according to their conscience and not party lines. "The MPs should think about the country first, not about themselves," Dr Mahathir had said at a joint news conference with Tengku Razaleigh.
The budget victory would likely solidify Mr Muhyiddin's grip as chief executive of the country for the immediate future.
He said the vote reflected acknowledgement by MPs that the budget is meant to help Malaysians hit by the pandemic. “The stand of the MPs... also proved that they honoured the call by the King for this budget to be passed without any hindrance, especially at a time when the country is dealing with the Covid-19 threat,” he said on Facebook.
Despite consistent questions regarding his majority since assuming the post of prime minister in March, Mr Muhyiddin's government has managed to pass a coronavirus relief bill, and now the federal budget in Parliament.
This is despite Mr Muhyiddin's majority never being debated or put to a vote in Parliament.
Numerous confidence and no confidence motions have been filed against Mr Muhyiddin, but none of them have seen the light of day in Parliament, where government Bills are prioritised.
This meant that the Bills in Parliament acted as a barometer of PM Muhyiddin's parliamentary support.
Mr Anwar said in a statement later: "The narrow passing of this Bill in Parliament will do little to inspire confidence in the PN government. It will simply render it further susceptible to self-interests of these politicians at the expense of the people."
The budget victory comes just over a week after tensions between Mr Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and Umno saw the fall of the Perak state government.
The Perak government was led by Bersatu's deputy president Ahmad Faizal Azumu, who was ousted last week after most of the Umno assemblymen voted against him. However, PN managed to form the Perak state government again, but this time with an Umno chief minister.