Analysts: Perikatan dodged bullets after PM’s Dept, MoF’s allocation in Budget passed

Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin
·6-min read
A general view of the Perdana Putra building which houses the Prime Minister’s Office on the fifth floor, in Putrajaya February 25, 2020. — Bernama pic
A general view of the Perdana Putra building which houses the Prime Minister’s Office on the fifth floor, in Putrajaya February 25, 2020. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 3 — After passing two Supply Bill 2021 allocations by bloc votes in the Dewan Rakyat, political analysts polled believe the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration may have just dodged two of the many more bullets headed their way.

The observers also felt that the Opposition’s failure to bin the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) and Ministry of Finance (MoF) allocations in itself was a missed opportunity for Pakatan Harapan (PH) to demonstrate its assertion that PN did not command the Parliamentary majority.

“Not only did PN dodge two bullets, but also PH squandered golden opportunities to portray the PN government has lost majority support,” Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan told Malay Mail.

Azmi explained that it would have been critical for the government if funding for these two administrative branches were halted from losing a bloc vote, particularly the PMD, which umbrellas many other agencies.

The UTM analyst said support for the PMD’s funding was also, in essence, the clutch in the ongoing argument of whether Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin does indeed command the majority support.

“PM funding is critical since, foremost, it's for the PM's Department where the crux of the issue is whether the PM has or doesn’t have the majority support.

“So a failed PM department budget no doubt will hinder the department’s operational activities since there are a number of ministers there and also agencies such as the public prosecutor’s office,” he added.

University of Malaya's associate professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi also agreed that PN has been let off the hook by seeing both Bills passed, avoiding a scenario that he said may have stalled wage payouts of relevant civil servants until a new and improved Bill is passed.

“If they lose in the votes, it will cause the credibility of PN to be affected from a financial perspective, and the legitimacy of the PN government would also be affected and put in doubt,” he told Malay Mail.

It would not have been a fatal scenario for the government if either of the Bills had failed, said senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun, explaining how alterations can still be made and are allowed for at the committee stage of such Bills.

Oh, however, warned the government against celebrating too early as it has yet to face almost 30 other allocations under the Supply Bill 2021.

“They passed through the first two of the more than 30 gates along the long way to final budget passage,” he said, agreeing that the analogy of ‘dodging bullets’, in this scenario, might be an understatement.

Oh also projected a more complex situation faced by PN if its proposed allocations are rejected, with lawmakers possibly equating any failed Bill to a motion of no-confidence against the administration’s and its leaders.

“But I don’t think there is a settled answer for this — the Opposition would of course say its equivalent to a motion of no-confidence under the Westminster tradition, but the government could similarly argue that, ’well not quite, it is not the final vote on the budget’.

“There are arguments going both ways,” he said.

Had these bills failed at the bloc votes, Azmi explained that besides funding to these ministries being temporarily choked, the government would also be forced to make amendments to those Bills.

He said that some form of middle ground must be established by the government to ensure both sets of lawmakers would agree to the new Bills, with allocation to each department and agency scrutinised.

“If the vote failed then a middle line needs to be agreed upon on the amount of budget allocated for each ministry and agencies,” he said.

Azmi however condemned the Opposition for intending to use bloc votes at the committee level debates to demonstrate the support or lack thereof for Muhyiddin, reiterating how it missed the opportunity when voting for the Budget at its policy stage last week.

“But contrary to what the Opposition say that they will make sure the committee level vote fails, just to demonstrate the prime minister does not enjoy the majority, it is just plain morally wrong since in the first place the critical stage of the policy level vote went through,” he quipped.

On Monday, allocations for the PMD were voted through in Parliament through bloc voting, with 105 MPs agreeing to the RM6.9 billion allocation for the department for 2021, 95 lawmakers disagreeing, and 20 others absent.

In the second vote of the day, RM21 billion in allocations for the MoF were also passed with 107 MPs agreeing, 95 of them opposing, and 18 who were absent.

However, it was later clarified that Padang Rengas MP Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, who was absent during the votes, was accounted for among those in favour, with the final tally later set at 106 MPs agreeing, 95 disagreeing, and 19 lawmakers absent.

This was after Budget 2021 passed through the policy stage in Parliament last Thursday through a voice vote.

The Bill was passed despite initial pushback from the Opposition, with only 13 MPs including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who stood up to force a bloc vote, two lawmakers short of the 15 required to oppose.

UM’s Awang Azman then agreed that winning the bloc votes by margins of 10 and 11 ayes in its favour indicates the government’s popularity level and slim majority in Parliament, and highlighted how the marginal victory also demonstrates the fluidity of MP’s support towards the government.

“However, in politics, every vote for the winning side will have an effect within a democracy.

“Even though they obtained a slim majority, PN remains in the position of power, unless a group of Umno MPs act in line with PH and reject the Budget,” he explained.

Oh also bought into the idea of the fluidity among lawmakers’ support, going on to suggest how Umno backbencher MPs are the ones who could end up as the swing votes in future bloc voting.

“Not the Umno ministers or deputy ministers who already have declared their support for the Budget, but the Umno backbenchers.

“Even though they have sort of declared their support, frankly speaking, I think it is still subject to change with the various backroom deals and demands which were not met, but we simply don’t know what those backroom deals and demands are,” he suggested.

Oh said he feels this group of volatile lawmakers could range between 15 to 20 Umno MPs, without naming them, saying where they lend their support depends on if their backroom deals are met.

Azmi, meanwhile, said he feels the margin of victory could be an indicator of the sentiments shared by the majority of the MPs.

“I think the 10 vote margin does not represent that the government has the majority by that amount, but I do believe the government or the prime minister, in this case, does have a majority,” he said.

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