Muhyiddin comes out looking stronger


The smooth proceedings on the Budget 2021 vote on Thursday suggests for the next one year, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is safely tucked in Putrajaya to helm the government. His biggest opposition in recent months, which is from some senior members of Umno that are part of PN, has fizzled out.

Over the past three months, there has been a nagging question which investors have not been able to find an answer to.

Would the Perikatan Nasional government be able to rule until 2023?

Would there be a general election or a state of emergency be called?

There were no answers to the questions until last Thursday.

The smooth proceedings on the Budget 2021 vote on Thursday suggests none of the above will happen. For the next one year, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is safely tucked in Putrajaya to helm the government.

His biggest opposition in recent months, which is from some senior members of Umno that are part of PN, has fizzled out.

Umno is obviously split. There is a camp that is aligned to those facing legal proceedings such as former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

There is another faction that is against any interference on any action that can or is being taken on the current set of Umno leaders.

Ahmad Zahid can be the Umno president but he does not control all the 38 MPs of the party. That has become quite clear in the run up to Thursday’s Budget 2021 meeting.

Former Umno president Najib, who is now the chairman of Barisan Nasional, essentially wanted a blanket moratorium on repayment of loans to be extended and people to have access to their savings in the Account 1 of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

That was the ultimatum he gave the Muhyiddin government if they wanted the support of Barisan Nasional.

Out of Umno’s 38 MPs, 17 are appointed to various ministries with the government. All the 17 ministers and deputy ministers did not state that they would vote against the budget should it come to that. In fact the likes of Tan Sri Annuar Musa was quite open that the Budget 2021 should be supported.

Najib’s demands were met but not in its entirety. EPF contributors affected by the economic shock from the Covid-19 pandemic could withdraw their compulsory savings if their income is affected. As for moratorium on loan repayments, an automatic approval mechanism was given for those in the B40 category while the rest could apply to the banks if their income has been affected due to the pandemic.

Notwithstanding that, would the Umno MPs with government positions voted against the budget had it come to that? In all probability, not all would have voted against the Budget.

As for the Opposition from Pakatan Harapan, there was hardly any dissent.

The MPs from Keadilan and DAP did not support a move for bloc voting. Instead, they have stated that the MPs would oppose the bill when it goes to the committee stage.

The DAP and Keadilan MPs can oppose when the budget goes to the committee stage in the next three weeks but it would not affect Muhyiddin’s position as the Prime Minister.

Also, DAP and Keadilan would not want to oppose the Budget 2021 too much to the extent a general election is called. If fresh elections are held, it is almost certain that both parties would not be able to repeat their 2018 performance where both parties won a record number of parliament seats.

Currently DAP and Keadilan have 42 and 38 MPs respectively. Collectively, both parties together with another 11 MPs from Amanah form a formidable force in Parliament at the moment.

Which is why Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was at one time being touted as a possible Prime Minister. But he could not pull through a vote of no confidence against Muhyiddin as he did not have the support.

In the next three weeks, the Budget 2021 bill would go through deliberations and debate at the committee stage. It is only expected that adjustments would be made to cater to the demands of Pakatan Harapan.

For instance, the RM81.5mil allocated to the Special Affairs Department (Jasa) will be reduced. Apart from the allocation for Jasa, there are demands for more money to be allocated to education and healthcare. Such demands may require adjustments by the Finance Ministry.

But by and large, Budget 2021 is set to sail.

Political instability, which has been an Achilles heel for the Malaysian investment climate since Muhyiddin took charge in March this year, is fading.

The Prime Minister is not completely out of the woods yet when it come to having control of the government. But he certainly is in a better position compared with March this year.

His next biggest test will probably come a year from now. By that time, the political scenario may change. There could be a deputy Prime Minister from Umno, which if it does happen, would put an end to any political games until the next general election which is due only in 2023.

M. Shanmugam is the former specialist editor of The Star. Views expressed here are his own.

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