Saturday, October 16, 2021

Opposition MPs warned against joining Umno rebels to bring down PM

Senior lawyer says it would be irresponsible to topple the government when no opposition leader has enough backing from MPs.

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A constitutional lawyer has challenged the notion that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin should step down if the 2021 budget is defeated today, saying it is not only simplistic, but also oblivious to the reality on the ground and the “nebulous ongoing parliamentary numbers game”.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow on condition of anonymity “because any view risks being politicised in the present fevered political atmosphere”, the senior lawyer said determining the confidence in the prime minister could be either in the floor of the House or outside the House, in line with the 2009 Perak case precedent.

“What is important to note is that even if the prime minister loses the majority, it doesn’t mean that any opposition leader has enough MPs backing him to form the government,” he said ahead of a crucial vote on the 2021 budget today, seen as a vote of confidence for the nine-month-old government.

Opposition MPs from Pakatan Harapan have disputed Muhyiddin’s support in the Dewan Rakyat despite the Yang di-Pertuan Agong naming him in February as the person who commands the backing of the most MPs to form the government.

In October, PKR president Anwar Ibrahim announced that he had the majority support, but failed to show details of his claim during an audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Critics of Muhyiddin have found in today’s budget an opportunity to replace the government for the second time.

But in the run-up to the tabling of the budget on Nov 6, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah several times reminded politicians not to indulge in “politicking”, and urged MPs to show unity during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic by supporting the 2021 budget.

“But it’s quite obvious that none of them have the numbers.”

Opposition MPs have attempted to push a motion of no confidence in the Dewan Rakyat, which never saw the light.

The nearest semblance to a confidence vote was held over a government motion to replace the Dewan Rakyat speaker, which the ruling bloc won by a two-vote majority.

Former prime minister Najib Razak and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had expressed support for Anwar in his attempt to topple Muhyiddin, in a letter they wrote to the palace in time for the PKR’s leader’s audience with the Agong last month.

Najib later openly admitted that he had urged Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs to support Anwar, while Zahid issued a statement renewing his support for the Perikatan Nasional government despite revelations of his behind-the-scenes demands from Muhyiddin in exchange for his support.

“None of the key opposition contenders for the top post has the numbers to back them,” the constitutional lawyer told MalaysiaNow.

“So it would be irresponsible for the opposition to bring down the government in an unholy alliance with discontented Umno MPs when they know very well that they themselves cannot form a new government.”

MalaysiaNow reported this week that a series of meetings were held outside the Umno leadership to persuade the party’s MPs to vote against the budget bill.

It is understood that Najib is joined by five Umno MPs in his determination to scuttle the budget.

Ministers and deputy ministers from BN have pledged their support for Muhyiddin, while a statement from PN’s backbenchers club, representing MPs from the parties which supported Muhyiddin for the top post early this year, pledged loyalty to the current government.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad meanwhile made it clear yesterday that he and three others from his Pejuang bloc would vote against the budget, while Sabah’s Warisan MPs led by Shafie Apdal have yet to announce the party’s stand.

Mahathir, who is Najib’s fiercest critic, yesterday said he welcomed any move by the Agong to appoint an MP as prime minister.

But the lawyer said Mahathir should be reminded that Najib’s corruption trial had proceeded without any impediment under Muhyiddin’s government.

“In this context, the attitude taken by Tun Mahathir in resolving to reject the budget is indeed baffling as he advocates bringing down the Muhyiddin government in order to allow an opposition leader to form government.

“But it’s quite obvious that none of them have the numbers.”

He further questioned the notion that Muhyiddin’s fate rests on the budget vote, referring to Article 43(4) of the Federal Constitution.

According to the article, if the prime minister ceases to command the confidence of the majority of MPs, he should tender his resignation of the Cabinet “unless at his request the Yang di-Pertuan Agong dissolves Parliament”.

“Under this article, the prime minister only need tender resignation if he has lost the confidence of the majority of MPs,” the lawyer said.

“But if the budget falls because some Umno MPs suddenly don’t turn up for the vote because of ‘illness’ or quarantine or other reasons, it cannot be said that the prime minister has lost the majority.

“Those absent MPs have not withdrawn support for the prime minister. Hence, the prime minister need not resign if the budget fails for those reasons,” he said.

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