Thursday, March 4, 2021

Endless possibilities: Rumours swirl ahead of budget vote

From the appointment of an interim PM to a royal decree for a state of emergency, rumours are flying as MPs meet in the Dewan Rakyat ahead of a crucial budget vote.

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Malaysia’s political rumour mills are going at full steam ahead of a crucial vote on Budget 2021 today, seen as more of a confidence motion on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin than on the multi-billion ringgit allocations involved as the nation battles a fierce resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

MalaysiaNow’s correspondents have been speaking to MPs and senior politicians in Parliament, as well as political observers and sources close to decision-makers in political parties, to get a glimpse of the ongoing conversations.

Here are the top speculations and rumours repeated by our sources as Malaysians wait with bated breath for whether the country will be distracted by yet another political crisis.

None of these speculations can be independently verified.

1. Interim prime minister

One speculation is that Muhyiddin will resign after the budget fails. In his place, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong might appoint an interim prime minister. This has happened before, when the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed and the palace re-appointed Dr Mahathir Mohamad as interim prime minister until someone with clear support could be named for the post. Several sources have even come up with the names of candidates likely to be made interim PM, including Hishammuddin Hussein, the current foreign minister.

2. Muhyiddin loses, and then snap polls

As the Agong has ruled out declaring a state of emergency, the prime minister, if he fails to obtain approval for the budget, may advise for the dissolution of Parliament to pave the way for the 15th general election. This is because no single leader eyeing the top post is likely to get enough backing to convince the Agong to appoint him as prime minister.

3. Emergency declared

The declaration of emergency in Batu Sapi to block a by-election there could be a precedent in the event that the Perikatan Nasional government collapses due to a failure to get the budget passed. The Agong could invoke his constitutional powers again, this time to declare an emergency that will see him calling the shots on major policies to ensure the continuity of the nation’s administration.

4. Najib has 18 MPs with him to block the budget

This rumour has been popular among opponents of Muhyiddin as well as supporters of PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim for obvious reasons, in the hope that it will encourage a snowballing of support from other MPs for the PKR leader to finally realise his ever-elusive prime ministerial ambitions.

5. Najib to fight another day

Najib Razak and his small group of Umno rebels, said to comprise five MPs, may decide to “fight another day” and support the budget bill, following their failure to mobilise more objections to the budget. It was reported that several private meetings were held with Umno and Barisan Nasional MPs to convince them to block the bill. However, the Perikatan Nasional Backbenchers Club as well as some 20 Cabinet members from BN have issued statements pledging support for the government.

6. Muhyiddin to win with support from Warisan

This is one possibility, on the back of private negotiations between leaders of the Sabah party and several members of the Cabinet. Their support will be crucial to making up for lost votes from Umno MPs linked to Najib, who have threatened to depart from their colleagues by voting down the budget. From the same rumour mill, it is said that Warisan president Shafie Apdal got “cold feet” and decided not to back Muhyiddin.

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