KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — Despite Perikatan Nasional (PN) pushing through its maiden Budget 2021 in its third reading yesterday, political observers have instead warned how the coalition is not quite home and dry with many potential hurdles up ahead.
Specifically, the analysts stressed on the differing implications and weight between votes garnered during a Budget, and those during a no-confidence motion against the administration.
The pundits were also on the same page when they agreed how the razor-thin majority in the 111-108 result in the bloc vote in Parliament, despite it signifying PN’s slim lead, should not be used as an official yardstick to measure the real support enjoyed by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
“If a no-confidence motion is indeed brought to the floor, some MPs might vote differently, as they would not like to be blamed for defeating a Budget during difficult times,” senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, Oh Ei Sun told Malay Mail.
For University of Malaya (UM) socio-political analyst Awang Azman Pawi, he agreed that numbers during a Budget vote differ from those in a no-confidence motion, as stopping the Budget would portray MPs opposing it as attempting to hinder funding for operational, stimulus, and aid expenditures.
“What is for certain is votes given in support of the Budget were done on the basis the people’s wellbeing is looked after, staff salaries are paid, and development plans can go on.
“However the differences need to be distinguished where support towards Muhyiddin’s leadership as a prime minister can only be gauged through a vote of confidence of no-confidence,” he said.
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan also affirmed the Budget differed from a no-confidence vote, pointing out how despite the claims and ado from the Opposition, Muhyiddin is still prime minister.
“Yes, it is true that 111 (MPs) is not a simple majority but the number, as the votes on the Bill, cannot be used as a yardstick to determine if the prime minister has the majority or otherwise,” he said.
Awang Azman then noted an increase in voting trend with the Opposition obtaining 108 votes when opposing the Budget’s third reading, 13 more than their usual count of 95. He said this amplified the fluidity of MPs’ support for the government.
“When the third reading was passed narrowly, it shows the precarious position of PN continues to remain fragile, uncertain and can topple at any point,” he said, a point Azmi also concurred with.
Despite their win, Oh also warned of more political instability experienced by PN as any wrong move could lead to defections and how only a small number is needed to topple the administration, evident from yesterday’s margin.
“The government would of course continue to procedurally block motions of no confidence, but the annual Budget is when it could not avoid such motions [being blocked], barring proclamation of an emergency,” he added.
PN’s Budget 2021, worth upwards of RM322 billion, was tabled on November 6 by Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz where it was later debated and passed through for its second reading on November 26.
Before its second reading, opposition lawmakers had threatened to vote out the Bill but failed to produce sufficient numbers to oppose it at the policy stage, with Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim later admitting to unilaterally deciding to let the Budget through.
Anwar had said the decision to only oppose the Budget’s second reading only through a voice without triggering a bloc vote was done to avoid the negative perception of the opposition being the ones responsible for halted funding to government agencies.
Despite then reassuring the public of persistent checks and balances of the Budget when debated in the Committee Stage, the government successfully voted through funding Bills for every one of their ministries, even when forced to pledge through bloc votes.
Yesterday, PN obtained 111 votes in favour of tabling their Budget for its third reading, one step closer towards being made an official legislation, with the Opposition only managing 108 votes to oppose the Bill.
Anwar has since attributed it to some MPs voting for the Budget despite previously disagreeing with parts of it, due to false claims made by PN linking it to allocation to the civil service.
UTM’s Azmi then pointed out how the conspicuous number of only 108 votes obtained to oppose the Budget was a telling sign of support enjoyed by Anwar.
“For a simple fact that he has no majority beyond what transpired [yesterday] of 108 votes,” Azmi suggested when contacted.
“This is the main reason Anwar was very hesitant to call for a bloc vote on the Bill’s first reading and if he had his way, he would have also refused for the bloc voting called during the third reading,” he added.
As far as PN-aligned parties are concerned, the analysts agreed that Umno siding with Muhyiddin in the votes was a display of their commitment to the coalition but also puts in question the gravity of their previous threats to defect from the government had PN refused to give in to their demands.
“The government could only count on its luck of still being able to stay in power as each day passes by, but one point, however, that is increasingly clear is that the mainstream faction in Umno is not serious in their toying with the idea of walking out of the government.
“They are only posturing to extract more political and other sorts of concessions from Muhyiddin,” said Oh.
Awang Azman agreed and suggested how PN, being aware of their fragile state, might attempt to remain in power by giving in to more backroom deals to appease their coalition colleagues.
“However, PN is expected to remain in power until Parliament is dissolved and this would be done through mechanisms of offering positions, power, and other forms of political bargaining.
“There are surely political conditions imposed or political bargaining that is being done for PN to maintain status-quo despite their slim lead,” the UM professor told Malay Mail.
Azmi then said how votes in support of PN yesterday indicated Umno’s allegiance towards Muhyiddin and his government, in turn, likely signalling the end of any hope for Anwar to try and entice defections from his former party.
“But what is important is that today might be the end of the road for Anwar on his pursuit to become the prime minister; it looks like Umno MPs turned up in nearly full force supporting the bill.
“The big loser for [yesterday’s] vote is of course Anwar, and to some extent [Tun] Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Ku Li (Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah). For sure Umno stamped their mark on how important their support is towards Muhyiddin,” he said.
Azmi was referring to a joint press conference held by Dr Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh on Monday, where the two senior politicians offered their services to the country to heal the economy had Tuesday’s Budget failed, despite no longer being in the same party while on opposite sides of the political divide.
“Ironically I think the factor that pushed Umno’s support is due to [Monday’s] press conference by Dr Mahathir and Ku Li,” he added.