Umno leaders call for scrapping CSA with opposition after govt defeat in Parliament

Pressure is mounting on Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to cancel the agreement. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Pressure is mounting on Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob from within his own party Umno to cancel a confidence and supply agreement (CSA) between the government and the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) after he lost a key vote in Parliament on Wednesday (March 23).

A motion to extend a detention without trial provision in a controversial security offences Bill failed to pass on Wednesday, the first time a government has lost a parliamentary vote outright in Malaysian history.

Calls to either void or review the CSA came on Thursday from Umno's top two leaders, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, both of whom have been agitating for a snap general election. Under the CSA, the government agreed not to dissolve Parliament before the end of July.

The PH-led opposition called for a bloc vote in Parliament on the controversial Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and outvoted the government's motion by 86 to 84.

PH leaders said the motion to extend the detention without trial provision was never discussed with them before being tabled on Wednesday. Under the CSA, PH promised that it would not derail any important government legislation such as supply Bills, the federal budget and confidence motions. PH's backing for any Bills beyond these was conditioned upon them being consulted beforehand.

But Zahid, who is Umno president, on Thursday accused PH of not keeping its end of the bargain and said there was "no point in expecting them to hold to their promise".

Mr Mohamad, who is Umno deputy president, called for the CSA to be re-evaluated, saying it had "failed to function as it should".

Earlier, on Wednesday, Umno Cabinet minister Annuar Musa also said he considered the CSA void.

But PH leaders on Thursday raised questions about the absence of more than a quarter of government MPs during the vote in Parliament. A total of 50 lawmakers were absent during the vote, 31 of them from the government bench.

Those absent included Zahid himself and former premier Najib Razak, another Umno leader currently pushing for a snap poll. Umno secretary-general Ahmad Maslan was also absent, as was Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the immediate past premier who is allied to the government and leads the Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact.

Professor James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at University of Tasmania, said: "This is about Umno looking for any excuse to dismantle the CSA." He said PH voting against the provision had more to do with the coalition's stand against the Act.

Many PH leaders had been critical of it since it was first introduced a decade ago. Better known by its acronym Sosma, the law provides for detention without trial for up to 28 days, a provision used to detain opposition politicians in the past.

Voting down of the motion means detention without trial under Sosma would lapse on July 31 - the same day the CSA between PH and the government is also due to lapse.

"The opposition takes the attitude that the (vote against the motion) is not inconsistent with the CSA because they are voting on one section of the Act, rather than the whole Act," Prof Chin said.

The CSA has already been under pressure in the past week over the government's failure to table an anti-hopping Bill, as it promised to do in the current Parliament sitting which ends on Thursday.

Under the CSA, the government promised to introduce a slew of major legislation and reforms in exchange for PH's backing on key Bills. The anti-hopping legislation, aimed at deterring defections among elected representatives, is largely viewed as the most important contained in the CSA.

PH had previously warned that the CSA would lapse on its own should the Bill not be tabled, but Mr Ismail promised PH leaders on Wednesday that he would table the Bill after calling for a special Parliament sitting in April. The meeting with PH leaders occurred hours before the government motion was defeated.

Mr Ismail, who is only third in line in Umno's hierarchy as party vice-president, currently leads a government with a slim four-seat majority in Parliament. He is in office with the support of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional coalition, Mr Muhyiddin's PN and Gabungan Parti Sarawak, another coalition in the eastern state of Sarawak.

Zahid and a number of Umno leaders believe the time is ripe for a general election because BN would win an outright majority and form a government on its own should one be held soon.

BN is basking in back-to-back landslide victories in two recent state polls in Melaka and Johor.

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