Opposition leader says the first round of voting on Budget 2021 was a win for the people as the finance minister made concessions
KUALA LUMPUR – How can Pakatan Harapan (PH) unilaterally reject Budget 2021 at the policy stage when the government conceded to its demands?
This was the poser mooted by PH chairman Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim over the contentious passing of the much-debated supply bill in Dewan Rakyat on Thursday.
“Notwithstanding we did oppose but not call for division.
“However, the role of the opposition is not to oppose everything,” said the PKR president in an exclusive interview with The Vibes at his office in Bukit Gasing yesterday.
“A week earlier, I issued a statement. If our concessions are not met, we will opt to reject Budget 2021 in total. What happened (on Thursday) was that the finance minister made major concessions,” he added.
Such concessions include the expansion of EPF’s i-Sinar withdrawal programme to cover all contributors who have suffered income losses, with the withdrawal limit raised to RM10,000; automatic moratorium on loan repayments for those in the B40 category and SMEs.
With little time to properly discuss with his parliamentary peers on the need for the tweaked budget to be thoroughly scrutinised, Anwar explained that he had to let the bill pass at the policy stage.
“If the concessions made will help the people with money in the bank, the fishermen, the farmers, the civil servants, the frontliners fighting Covid-19 why should we reject?
“How do we explain to the masses? This is what they wanted. Tengku Zafrul (finance minister) had conceded (to our demands). Do we still reject? What are the grounds of the rejection?” he remarked.
And so, Anwar “whispered” the controversially unpopular last-minute veto – to not take part in any division vote to annul the earlier voice vote verdict – to Amanah president Mohamad Sabu and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.
In Malaysia, a parliamentary division vote can be invoked if 15 MPs agree to it by way of standing up. On Thursday, only 13 MPs did so.
However, a rejection of Budget 2021 at the committee stage, said Anwar, will produce a similar outcome as one done at the policy level.
“We verbally rejected but did not call for divisions to allow for the debate at the committee stage to continue. December 15 will be the major decision. To accept or reject the budget. It will be the final round,” he said.
The undisclosed reduction of the RM85.5million allocation for the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) and the need for substantial funding for the Health Ministry were among the issues that PH will scrutinise at the committee stage.
“Specific provisions and allocations, excesses on development expenditures where cronyism is continued, project procurement without tenders. These issues will be raised at the committee stage.
“It means that we will still continue to vote at every single point,” he said.
Anwar believed that the concessions that the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government had to make attested to its “fragility.”
“They are not prepared to face Parliament based on their earlier budget. They need to make major concessions, otherwise they would not have this standing.
“To my mind, we have won in that sense because many of our appeals, including some made by other MPs from the government side, have been met. Although not totally, but partially,” said Anwar.
The blowback on the ground, especially among PH supporters were palpable.
Many prominent PH politicians, DAP’s Anthony Loke and PKR’s Maria Chin Abdullah to name a few, have apologised to their supporters for not standing up during the division vote headcount.
In fact, on Friday night, DAP’s youth wing had demanded Anwar’s apology and called for DAP to consider parting ways with PKR if he does not apologise for allowing the passing of Budget 2021.
Anwar, however, was unfazed when this was brought up to him in the interview; he was confident that PKR’s ties with DAP can withstand this turbulence.
“DAP has been a very important ally for the last 22 years. We have stood through very tough battles and I don’t think one or two small episodes like this could derail us. There were worse experiences (that we had gone through) when we were in Pakatan Rakyat,” he remarked.
He also dismissed a report quoting PH MPs that he made a promise to quit as PH chairman if he fails to take over Putrajaya.
“I am indebted to my colleagues who stood by the cause, not only by Anwar. The cause for reform, good governance, rule of law, free media, fair distributive justice in terms of economic policies.
“Whatever arrangement that we want to make involving other MPs, these core policies will not change. People keep on giving all sorts of assumptions and allegations. I think we should dismiss that,” he said.
But Anwar did mention that if his allies no longer want him to lead the fray, then he is prepared to withdraw.
“If they want to choose someone else (to lead PH), I will concede and ‘undur’ (retreat). But please do not pick someone who has been tested and failed,” he remarked.