Pundits suggest Opposition find alternatives to Plan B after repeated failures against Budget 2021 at committee stage

Kenneth Tee And Emmanuel Santa Maria Chin
·4-min read
Opposition MPs’ current behaviour in the Dewan Rakyat is destabilising not only Anwar’s position as Opposition leader, but also the entire bloc’s ability to check and balance the government. — Bernama pic
Opposition MPs’ current behaviour in the Dewan Rakyat is destabilising not only Anwar’s position as Opposition leader, but also the entire bloc’s ability to check and balance the government. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 3 — Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the rest of the Opposition bloc should seriously reconsider their options, including preparing for general elections, several political analysts said.

They noted that the attempts by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its cohorts to vote down Budget 2021 at the committee stage has not worked in the past week as the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) easily cleared the hurdles with the full support of its Barisan Nasional (BN) allies.

Analyst Shazwan Mustafa Kamal observed that the Opposition has stumbled and dropped the proverbial ball.

“The narrative has shifted from the Perikatan Nasional government and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's support amongst MPs to questions surrounding the fractious nature of the Opposition, and why they are not united,” said the senior associate with political and policy risk consultancy Vriens & Partners.

He noted that the Opposition MPs’ current behaviour in the Dewan Rakyat is destabilising not only Anwar’s position as Opposition leader but jeopardising the entire bloc’s ability to check and balance the government.

“Warisan's absence this week during bloc votes at the Committee stage is a clear sign that Anwar does not command support from all parties, and that there are issues that still need to be ironed out in detail.

“At this point, the Opposition should do its best to highlight issues of concern for each ministry so that there is at least some dissonance on the issue. But opposing the Budget at this stage is a very tall order,” Shazwan told Malay Mail.

So far, the allocations for seven ministries under Budget 2021 have sailed through the committee stage in Parliament; four through voice votes and three through bloc voting.

Since Monday, the Opposition has consistently topped out at 95 MPs at each division voting.

As another analyst Oh Ei Sun sees it, PN’s maiden Budget clearing any obstacle is largely a done deal, unless as he said, some government backbenchers change their minds again.

“The Umno backbenchers have indeed flipped back to supporting the Budget despite their initial flirting with opposing it, at least partly due to their budgetary demands having been substantially met,” said the senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

He added that this means there is further doubt to Anwar’s claim of commanding “a formidable and convincing” majority in Parliament when the Port Dickson MP gained an audience with the King and sought permission to form a new government to replace PN.

“Sure, that majority was effectively over as the Umno backbenchers flipped back to supporting the Budget with real reasons known only to themselves,” Oh said.

But analysts whom Malay Mail spoke with contended that the Opposition still have other options in their current predicament.

One of them is to again push for a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Muhyiddin in Parliament, noting that some Umno MPs, including its president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has openly called for it.

To Oh, this is the safest bet for Anwar.

He said the Opposition should exploit the clear discomfort between Bersatu and Umno MPs.

However, he also cautioned that there is a likelihood the no-confidence motion may be defeated if Umno and PAS choose to team up as the two parties who have their Muafakat Nasional agreement form a formidable pact.

Another alternative is to start preparing for the 15th general election, which could happen soon, once the current third wave of the Covid-19 epidemic in the country is under control again.

Awang Azman Awang Pawi from the University of Malaya pointed out that the Opposition’s strategy to oppose Budget 2021 not at the policy stage but at the committee stage was only one plan.

“The plan to reject the Budget is a plan. If it fails, Anwar should continue with his plan to table a vote of no-confidence in Parliament that must be convincing with the support of Umno MPs who are dissatisfied with PN,” he said.

“If this fails as well, then they must focus on election preparations by strengthening their party machinery to court more support,” Awang added.

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