Malaysia’s 2021 budget passed at third reading in parliament

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Supply Bill 2021 passed its third reading in the Lower House with a division vote on Tuesday (Dec 15).

A total of 111 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted in favour of the budget proposed by Mr Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

A total of 108 other voted against the bill, while one was absent. 

The RM322.54 billion (US$77.9 billion) budget, tabled on Nov 6, is the biggest ever in Malaysia amid a COVID-19 pandemic. Inputs have earlier been sought from the opposition lawmakers on the formulation of this budget, the first time in the country’s history.

The Bill was earlier passed at policy stage on Nov 26 with a voice vote, based on lawmakers verbally indicating whether they support the budget or not. 

Trans sex workers need to be guided back to 'right path', says Malaysian  politician
A statue of Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman is pictured in front of the parliament building in Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2018. (Photo: AFP/Mohd Rasfan)

Following that, the budget was debated at the committee stage, where allocation for each ministry was scrutinised. Allocations for all 27 ministries were passed. 

The Bill will now go to the Senate, before it will be submitted to the Malaysian king for royal assent. 

Seen largely as a confidence vote in Mr Muhyiddin’s leadership, the result on Tuesday showed that the prime minister still commands a majority.

The absentee was Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Tengku Mohd Hamzah from United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), according to a Facebook post of Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s Subang MP Wong Chen.

Tengku Razaleigh had a day earlier met the press alongside former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and indicated that they would work together to revive the country’s economy. 

CONTENTIOUS BILL PASSAGE

The Lower House has 222 seats but there are currently 220 MPs following the deaths of two MPs in October and November this year. 

The PN government has a razor-thin majority, which was shown during the removal of the previous speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof with a 111-109 vote at the start of parliament’s second meeting on Jul 13. 

Mr Muhyiddin came into power in March after leading Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) out of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, triggering its collapse and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s resignation as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister. 

He has since been faced with maintaining a fragile balance of power with allies such as former ruling party UMNO. 

The passage of Mr Muhyiddin’s first budget as prime minister has been a contentious one, as his administration faced fire from both sides of the political aisle.

Prior to the budget debates beginning early November, the opposition coalition PH had already declared six “non-negotiable” recommendations for a “Unity Budget”, including an increase in the number of temporary healthcare workers, as well as a special allocation to tackle the COVID-19 spread in Sabah.

Other points included expanding the social safety net and extending the loan moratorium, which was previously instituted from April to September this year until Mar 31 in 2021. 

Meanwhile, former prime minister Najib Razak, who leads the Barisan Nasional Backbenchers’ Club, said the former ruling coalition, now supporting Mr Muhyiddin’s PN government, would support budget 2021. 

However, this was on condition that citizens could make a one-off withdrawal of up to RM10,000 (US$2,461,24) from Account 1 of their Employees Provident Fund, as well as extending the loan moratorium. 

Another point of contention included an allocation of RM85.5 million for the Special Affairs Department (JASA), now rebranded to Community Communications Department (JKOM). On Dec 10, its allocation was slashed to RM40.5 million. 

OPPOSITION MOVES

On Monday, the opposition bloc walked out in protest after three MPs comprising two government ministers and one opposition MP, were allowed into the chambers to vote while dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE).

The three were supposed to be under quarantine after coming into contact with COVID-19 patients. 

Later the same day, Dr Mahathir and his former political rival Tengku Razaleigh held a joint press conference, raising the spectre of the budget being defeated in Tuesday’s reading. 

传将组“马姑配”临时政府马哈迪拉沙里吁阻今天财案拟扳倒国盟| 早报
Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and politician Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah react after a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

In the press conference, the two urged their parliamentary colleagues to put Malaysia ahead of personal or party interests when the Bill was tabled for the third reading. 

Dr Mahathir said Mr Muhyiddin’s PN government may fall if it loses the vote. 

“If it loses, then we have no government. Then there is a need to form a government,” he said.

PH also issued a statement on Monday urging MPs from both the opposition camp and the government side to reject the budget at its third reading. 

Source: CNA/vt

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