A Shakespearean tragedy coming to Parliament?

Full of drama: The people being allowed to draw from the EPF and an automatic extension of the loan moratorium during the Covid-19 pandemic have been central to the budget quagmire.

There is a risk that the Budget 2021 bill can be defeated – in politics as in fiction, anything can happen.

“ET tu, Brute? (And you, too, Brutus?), ” Julius Caesar uttered as his close friend Marcus Brutus stabbed him in William Shakespeare’s fictional account of the murder of the Roman dictator, The tragedy of Julius Caesar.

In Shakespeare’s play, Brutus, depending on your political perspective, is a hero or a zero for his role in assassinating the leader of the Roman Republic.

The phrase has become an expression to mean the ultimate betrayal by one’s closest friend.

Next week, we’ll find out if there’s any Brutus among the 220 MPs in the vote to pass Budget 2021.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia politics and governance research group head Dr Mazlan Ali said there is a possibility that for the first time in Malaysia a party, which is a member of the Federal Government, might not support a budget bill.

“It is not surprising if Pakatan Harapan opposes the budget as that is expected of the opposition. But it is a shocker that a government party, Umno, is playing tarik tali (tug of war) with (Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) to pressure him, ” he said.

If all MPs from the government voted for it, Budget 2021 should be passed as there are 112 Perikatan Nasional government MPs while there are 108 opposition MPs.

Will it be Et tu, Umno?

Or specifically, “And you, too, Umno Kluster Mahkamah (Umno Court Cases Cluster)?”

When asked which party/MPs will vote against Budget 2021 or abstain from voting, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun said at the moment, the situation is fluid.

“Still cannot tell now. But the biggest variant is Umno in whole or in parts voting for it or not, ” he said.

Umno (or a faction in the party), according to Oh, is still trying to extract as much political concession from Muhyiddin as possible.

“And often this sort of behind-the-scene manoeuvring would continue down to moments before the actual votes, ” he said.

He said the Umno faction consisting of Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Barisan Nasional backbenchers’ chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak is still holding out.

“Ku Li (Umno’s Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah) too. The game here is to rock Muhyiddin’s boat of leadership as much as possible such that he might fall overboard and a new captain to their liking can be installed instead, ” he said.

Mazlan noted that there is a faction in Umno which believes that the longer the party is with Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia in the Perikatan government, the weaker the party will be. There is also a faction in the party which believes that Umno needs to be with Bersatu to win convincingly in GE15, he said.

An Umno insider had told me that Umno Kluster Mahkamah ultimate goal is bubar (dissolution) as they believe that the party would win the most seat in GE15 and there it could get back the Prime Minister post.

On whether PKR and its president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim would vote against Budget 2021, Oh said it would depend on Umno’s ultimate move.

“If Umno is finally voting against, then PKR is likely to follow suit, to topple Muhyiddin. If Umno falls in line, then PKR would probably not vote against, to preserve a semblance of national unity in a time of distress, ” he said.

Universiti Malaya sociopolitics professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the usual suspects are expected to reject Budget 2021. He named Pakatan Harapan (91 MPs from PKR, DAP and Amanah), Pejuang (the yet-to-be registered party of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad with four MPs) and Parti Warisan Sabah (eight MPs).

However, he said MPs from Umno might also defeat the budget bill openly or by not attending Parliament on the day of voting. Umno leaders like Najib and Zahid, he said, had announced that their support for the bill was conditional upon the rakyat being allowed to draw from the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and an automatic extension of the loan moratorium during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is now or never for Anwar, according to a Pakatan MP, if the PKR president wants to be Prime Minister.

“If he doesn’t defeat Budget 2021, there will be no other opportunity to show that the Prime Minister doesn’t have the majority. The government will not allow for a no-confidence vote, ” he said.

On whether Budget 2021 would be passed, Awang Azman said it would depend on the last negotiation between the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister with Pakatan and several Barisan MPs. “They do not fully agree with the Budget, but it does not mean that they reject it in full, ” he said.

Mazlan said there is a risk that the budget bill could be defeated.

“In politics, anything can happen, ” he said.

In Shakespeare’s play, after they murdered Julius Caesar, Brutus and co-conspirator Gaius Cassius Longinus (guess who is the Malaysian Cassius in the plot to kill Budget 2021) began arguing with each other and they led their army into an ill-fated assault.

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