KUALA LUMPUR - New Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob cleared his first hurdle with his majority in Parliament not in doubt as the government's largest five-year development plan was approved without any opposition.
Having decided not to directly test his majority with a confidence vote after he became prime minister in August, the passage of the 12th Malaysia Plan - Datuk Ismail's first policy document since taking office - will be seen as a boost for him as he heads towards tabling the crucial federal budget later this month.
The development plan was passed by a simple voice vote on Thursday (Oct 7).
Legislators from the main opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition did not block its passage, reflecting the spirit of the confidence-and-supply agreement that Mr Ismail had earlier reached with the PH.
The 12th Malaysia Plan was not included in the series of policy and political undertakings outlined in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) which was signed by Mr Ismail and PH in September.
Much of the the RM400 billion (S$130 billion) in the development plan, which is 54 per cent bigger than its predecessor, the 11th Malaysia Plan, is aimed at rejuvenating the country's Covid-19-battered economy as it looks to fully reopen the economy and international borders in 2022.
The plan also aims to eradicate abject poverty, reduce inequality among states, and turn Malaysia into a high-income economy by 2025.
Mr Ismail has a tenuous grip in Parliament, enjoying only a four-seat majority. He essentially leads the same loose alliance of his predecessor, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who served only 17 months in office. Mr Muhyiddin became the shortest serving prime minister in Malaysia's history after a number of MPs in his alliance withdrew support for him.
Mr Ismail, who is vice-president of Umno, can count on 114 MPs supporting him, including those from his own party and its Barisan Nasional allies as well Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional, and other Sarawak- and Sabah-based parties.
The opposition has 105 MPs, 88 of them in PH, which is led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Another senior Umno MP, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, has not backed Mr Ismail as premier. Two seats in the 222-seat Parliament are vacant.
Mr Ismail reached the MOU with the PH with the aim of restoring political stability in the country following months of tensions within Mr Muhyiddin's alliance as well as constant sniping with the opposition.
As part of the deal, the premier agreed to table several reform Bills, including on enforcing a new voting age, preventing party-hopping and limiting the term of the prime minister to 10 years.
In return, PH said that it might back or abstain from voting over key government legislation in Parliament, including the budget and related supply Bills.
The MOU also included a commitment that Parliament would not be dissolved before the end of July next year, giving ample time for legislation on the reforms to be tabled and passed before the next general election, which is not due until July 2023. Mr Ismail's position thus appears relatively secure for a year.
Mr Ismail will table the 2022 federal budget on Oct 29, and it is expected to be voted on in November and December.