Malaysia PM holds on to power with budget win

Special Malaysia PM holds on to power with budget win
Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and politician Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah after a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Monday. (Reuters)
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Updated 16 December 2020

Malaysia PM holds on to power with budget win

Malaysia PM holds on to power with budget win
  • Muhyiddin secures approval by three votes, seeing off opposition challenge

KUALA LUMPUR: Malysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin secured his position in Parliament on Tuesday after securing 111 votes for his first federal budget, following weeks of uncertainty about whether he would survive the vote.

Muhyiddin won by a wafer-thin margin by winning the support of three more MPs, compared to the 108 who had voted against him, to clear the final hurdle for the record 322.5 billion Malaysian ringgit ($79.61 billion) budget which will move to the Upper House and Senate to be ratified before taking effect.

Experts said Tuesday’s results had “solidified” Muhyiddin’s hold on power.

“This has solidified Muhyiddin’s position, and now he is holding a ‘more stable’ regime,” Prof. James Chin, Tasmania University’s Asia Institute Director, told Arab News.

The budget approval is also a sign of “positive progress” for the premier, who faced fierce battles with the opposition in recent months.

Since assuming top office eight months ago, Muhyiddin has dealt with infighting in his ruling coalition and a leadership challenge by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, on top of economic and health disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Constitutional expert Lim Wei Jiet told Arab News that a budget defeat would have triggered snap elections and “under usual circumstances, the prime minister would resign if he or she would lose their budget vote in the August House.”

Tuesday’s vote also diluted Anwar’s premiership bid after he declared in September that he had “enough votes in parliament” to form a government and replace Muhyiddin.

Chin said that despite Anwar’s claim to have the numbers, “people are still waiting to see it materialize.”

He said: “If Anwar cannot stop the budget, the reality is that he has lost the numbers.

“The budget has got nothing to do with Muhyiddin’s popularity.

“No government in Malaysia has ever lost a budget vote, which means Muhyiddin’s political position has strengthened and it would be difficult to remove him now.”

However, the opposition will “continue to try and get rid of Muhyiddin,” but it will be “much harder to do,” Chin said.

Muhyiddin’s win did not come as a surprise to many, despite calls from former prime minister Mahathir Mohammed and United Malays National Organisation veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah for MPs to “go beyond party lines” when voting for the budget.

In a joint statement released on Monday, Mahathir and Razaleigh said the country needed a government that “genuinely cared for the people.”

The statement said: “When they vote for the third reading of the budget, there’s a possibility that the government may lose. If it loses, I hope those in Parliament will begin to think not about themselves, but about the nation.”

The National Alliance government was on the brink of collapse in October when Malaysia’s King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah rejected Muhyiddin’s request to declare a state of emergency to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Had the request been approved, it would have suspended Parliament and given the prime minister uncontested power.