KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s parliament approved the 2021 budget on Thursday, saving the shaky leadership of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin from a potential political crisis.
The Malaysian government proposed the $78 billion budget, the largest in the country’s history, three weeks ago to help the economy weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. As it was passed with a voice vote, with lawmakers verbally indicating their support, it remains unclear how many of the 222 lawmakers actually approved it.
The budget vote has been seen as decisive for Muhyiddin’s political future amid a recent leadership challenge by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Had Muhyiddin’s nine-month-old government failed to win parliamentary approval for the budget, it would have triggered new calls for him to resign or forced him to seek a general election.
“This is an important decision that puts the welfare, safety and wellbeing of the people ahead of other matters,” Muhyiddin said after the budget session, adding that the 2021 budget would allow the government to execute expenditure plans for the coming year in a smooth and coordinated matter.
Muhyiddin has only a slim majority in parliament, which was challenged by Anwar who last month said he had majority support to form a new government. Lawmakers have also filed 25 motions for a vote of no-confidence in Muhyiddin since the beginning of November, but they had been thwarted by the house speaker who was appointed by the prime minister.
University of Tasmania Asia Institute Director Prof. James Chin told Arab News that the lack of bloc voting during the budget session indicated rifts in the opposition.
Lawmakers are entitled to call for a bloc vote instead of a simple voice vote if a minimum of 15 parliament members stand up to request it from the house speaker. On Thursday, however, only 13 MPs stood up, including former prime minister Mahathir Muhammad and his son.
“I was a bit surprised that no actual vote was taken but it went with a voice note,” Prof. Chin said. “This is an indication that Muhyiddin’s government is safe until the next crisis arises.”
Muhyiddin’s government appeared on the brink of collapse last month when Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah rejected his request to declare a state of emergency to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which would have suspended the parliament and given the prime minister uncontested powers.
After Thursday’s session, however, the king expressed his gratitude to parliament members for approving the budget.
Royal Household comptroller, Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, said in a statement that the king welcomed the support shown “to ensure the well-being of the people as well as the economic recovery for the prosperity of the nation.”