Budget 2021 vote debacle: Opposition’s best bet now is to reorganise for GE15, say experts

R. Loheswar And Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin
·5-min read
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (bottom right) and fellow Perikatan Nasional MPs at the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur November 26, 2020. — Bernama pic
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (bottom right) and fellow Perikatan Nasional MPs at the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur November 26, 2020. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 — Analysts say attempts by the Opposition to block Budget 2021 at the committee level will only risk angering the rakyat further.

Political scientist Professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said the Opposition’s decision not to oppose the Bill last Thursday in Parliament was tantamount to accepting the legitimacy of the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

As such he does not think they will oppose the Bill at the committee stage.

“I don’t think they will,” Fauzi told Malay Mail.

“The Thursday vote was supposed to be the de facto no-confidence vote against the PN government. A chance like that doesn’t come twice.

“Refusing a bloc vote is tantamount to accepting the legitimacy of this PN government, backdoor or not. Pakatan Harapan (PH) could have done better had it prepared a Shadow Budget.

“In the present situation, it doesn’t even have a Shadow Cabinet, which tells a lot about its inability to digest the fact that it cannot keep on hoping to overturn this government by defections, as what Anwar Ibrahim seemingly had in mind when he announced to the country on September 23 that Muhyiddin’s government has fallen.”

Anwar had said he instructed his side’s lawmakers to allow Budget 2021 through the policy stage as he did not want to be seen as blocking aid and concessions announced by the PN government.

He said the decision was very difficult as Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz’s Budget allegedly “evaded substantive fundamental issues.”

However, the main reason for blocking the Budget was to show that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin does not have majority support in Parliament.

By doing so, the Opposition was hoping to show they had the majority to form the government.

But all this is moot as they did not block the Budget in Parliament last Thursday.

“The Agong has already conveyed his appreciation to MPs who put the interest of the people first when the Budget sailed through and for MPs to oppose the Budget at a later stage will not sit well with the people facing an economic crunch due to the pandemic,” said Professor Azmi Hassan who is a Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist.

The second reading of the Budget will be today, followed by the third reading before it is passed.

University of Malaya’s Awang Azman Awang Pawi said the Bill must go through the third stage before being approved by the Agong but meanwhile it can still be opposed by MPs.

“The prime minister as the main power with all the mechanisms at his disposal will do whatever he can to avoid the Budget from being rejected.

“Even though the Agong has expressed his gratitude for passing the Budget it does not mean the MPs cannot object to it, like what Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah did.

“This is in accordance with the constitutional monarch concept, while the Dewan Rakyat is the independent legislature that makes decisions without bias and interference,” he added.

Regaining public trust and managing perceptions

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (bottom right) and Opposition MPs at the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur November 26, 2020. — Bernama pic
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (bottom right) and Opposition MPs at the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur November 26, 2020. — Bernama pic

Many supporters of the Opposition were disappointed with their MPs for bowing to pressure following the Budget 2021 vote.

However, the Opposition faces a dilemma.

If it wants to take over the government, it may not want to earn the ire of the Agong as the Opposition would also need his approval to take office.

When asked what the Opposition can do to regain the public’s trust, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun said they need to come out strongly on certain budgetary issues at the committee stage, such as Special Affairs Department allocations.

He also highlighted the fact that PH supporters really do not have anyone else to back at the moment.

“PH supporters virtually have no other choice — the so-called third force is not yet politically realistic — other than PH, if they don’t want to stomach the current government which they see as regressive.

“The Budget has not passed. The main point is traditional supporters cannot afford to abandon them, and hopefully by this hapless move they can win over some supporters from the other side who are the main Budget beneficiaries,” said Oh.

However, Professor Fauzi said there was no hope as the first Budget vote last Thursday was the best opportunity to show the rakyat they meant business.

“The trust is broken,” said Fauzi.

“The first Budget vote was the much awaited moment. Constitutionally speaking, it was a squandered opportunity... whether for fear of opposing the Agong or exposing PH’s own numerical inadequacy.

“To regain trust, they need to show their readiness to play the meaningful role of an Opposition bloc until the next general elections in two to three years’ time. Organise PH’s team in the form of a Shadow Cabinet, prepare young leaders to replace Anwar’s generation, stop harping about the illegitimacy of this backdoor government when PH itself has legitimized it.

“Backdoor they are, but they’re now ensconced in the house legally,” he added.

Professor Awang echoed Fauzi’s sentiments that the Opposition needs to now look into every sen being spent in the various ministries and scrutinise if they see any wrongful expenditures.

“If the Opposition did not reject the Budget for fear of angering the Agong, then in order to regain the people’s trust they must make sure all the checks and balances are in place.

“They should essentially become the watchdog for the Budget spending and not a lap dog. They should make sure the government machinery is not overspending, being wasteful or abusing its power.

“Apart from that, they should also be seen as being capable of working together and not being suspicious of each other. They must move as one voice and act like a strong unified team with the potential to build a strong Cabinet with high integrity,” he added.

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