KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Would any MP dare to not support Budget 2021?
Yes, said James Chin, who is director of the Asia Institute, University of Tasmania, Australia.
“An MP can vote against the budget by casting an absentee vote or by simply not being in the hall when the budget is being passed, ” he pointed out.
However, Mr Chin is confident the budget Bill will not be defeated in Parliament.
“There’s no way that (a majority of) the MPs will bring the budget down. People forget that between the first and final reading of the budget, the government can make changes to it,” he said.
“So if there are any blocs of MPs or individual MPs who are unhappy with certain parts of the budget, the government can fine-tune it or provide an additional fund to meet the requirement of the MPs. So the budget will be passed.”
Political analyst Azmi Hassan doesn’t doubt that the budget will be passed – “Lest those who oppose the Bill are labelled as self-serving MPs who put party agenda above the rakyat’s (people) needs,” he said.
Mr Azmi foresees that Budget 2021 will be voted on along partisan lines. Most probably, he said, the opposition would abstain from voting as an implicit signal of no confidence in Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
“By convention, the opposition usually will vote against the Bill. But it is a special time so the warring parties will want to demonstrate that they have the rakyat as the priority,” he said.
As for Umno, Azmi said the party’s statement, issued after its supreme council met on Thursday (Nov 5) night, put to rest that some of their MPs might not support the Bill. Umno declared that it would ensure that Budget 2021 was passed.
“But on a personal note, I wish the MPs would debate the Bill’s contents and not use the time simply to show displeasure for Muhyiddin. Debate to make the Bill better for the rakyat, ” he said.
On Nov 2, Parliament convenes and Budget 2021 will be tabled on Friday (Nov 6). It will see debates and ministerial replies at the policy stage followed by voting by MPs on Nov 23.
If a majority of MPs vote for it, it goes to the committee stage where MPs will vote on the specific measures in the budget.
For the record, the government has 113 MPs and the opposition 108 MPs. There are rumblings that some government MPs could turn rogue and not support the Bill.
On Oct 28, for the third time in five days, the King advised all MPs, regardless of party lines, to stop the political squabbling and support Budget 2021 for the well-being of the people at a time when the nation is facing various crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic and economic slowdown.
However, for some politicians, politicking is like breathing. There are those who are plotting to bring down Mr Muhyiddin’s government so that they can have their choice of prime minister or form a unity government.
What are the consequences if Budget 2021 is not passed?
Mr Azmi said all 2021 expenses, including the budget for civil servants’ emoluments and development, would be in limbo.
The Bill, he said, no doubt would be enhanced compared to the previous Covid-19 pandemic packages.
“Without this budget, hands would be tied in confronting the effects of the pandemic, especially on our economy. This situation has never happened in our history and we will be going into uncharted territory,” he said.
However, Mr Azmi said he is “pretty sure our representatives will act more responsibly unlike their counterparts in the American Congress who used the (Covid-19) stimulus package as a means of political brinkmanship.”
If the budget Bill is defeated, Chin said it would be the “nuclear scenario”. The prime minister, according to Westminster convention, must resign, he said.
“But remember this is not written down in law. It is a political convention. Some people say that Malaysia should not follow Westminster convention.
But, generally speaking, the consensus among experts is this convention does apply to Malaysia because our Parliament is basically based on the British system,” he said.
If Budget 2021 is passed, what are the political consequences? Does it mean that Mr Muhyiddin has “won”? Or will there be more politicking?
Mr Azmi said the opposition and Umno would want to demonstrate that their support of the Bill or that refraining from voting on it does not mean that they support the Prime Minister.
This perception, he said, is critical to ensure that the legislation goes through. “I think not only Muhyiddin understands this but the rakyat too,” he said.
Therefore, Mr Azmi said, the political consequence would be that nothing much has changed about whether Mr Muhyiddin has majority support.
The status quo remains, with the opposition still on their quest for a new prime minister and Umno only supporting Mr Muhyiddin till the next general election, he said.
“No doubt there will be more politicking, not immediately after the Bill is passed perhaps, but most probably after the Sabah pandemic issue is under control,” he said.
Umno, in its latest statement, has stated that GE15 should be held once the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.
Passing Budget 2021 is just a ceasefire from politicking. A snap election seems inevitable.
The writer is a columnist with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.