Friday, February 19, 2021

PH embarks on ‘27-0’ strategy to redeem budget vote failure

But observers question the extent to which the strategy will succeed.

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Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders have embarked on a “27-0” strategy, a reference to their readiness to challenge all 27 ministerial budgets by bloc vote even if it means losing all of them.

This follows its failure to force a vote on the budget at the policy stage last week, which drew it fire from its hardcore supporters.

A PKR source told MalaysiaNow that PH MPs had been instructed to force bloc voting for each of the 27 ministerial budgets to prevent an easy pass at the committee stage, debates for which began yesterday.

“The backlash from supporters was unexpected, and there is a growing feeling that PH is increasingly being seen as a toothless opposition,” the party insider who has access to top leaders said.

The move is largely seen as an attempt to redeem the image of the former ruling coalition, whose leaders were widely criticised for following opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim’s last-minute directive to stand down from rejecting the 2021 budget, preventing the budget vote from becoming a confidence motion.

Yesterday, PH and other opposition MPs forced a bloc vote on the budget’s allocations for the Prime Minister’s Department and the finance ministry, but failed to get the numbers needed.

“The backlash from supporters was unexpected.”

It is believed that the opposition was denied the numbers due to the absence of Sabah’s Warisan MPs.

Several key Umno critics of the Perikatan Nasional government such as former prime minister Najib Razak, Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and veteran leader Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah were also absent.

There are 27 sets of allocations for the various ministries to be debated in the coming days.

The first two debates, held yesterday, saw the budgets for the Prime Minister’s Department and the finance ministry approved based on individual voting by MPs.

In the two bloc votes, PH got 95 votes against the ruling bloc’s 105 and 107.

The resolve to force bloc voting was vocalised by Amanah president Mohamad Sabu in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, when he declared that MPs were ready for the remaining 25 bloc votes.

“It’s not a problem even if we lose 27-0,” he said.

Mohamad, popularly known as Mat Sabu, was among those who sat out a call for a bloc vote at the crucial policy stage of the budget although several MPs from his party stood in support of it.

Former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad later hit out at opposition MPs who did not stand up, saying they had wasted their only opportunity to bring down the “backdoor government”, a phrase he uses frequently on Muhyiddin’s administration.

Former Sabah PKR leader Musli Oli however doubts that the opposition’s strategy will redeem its image.

“I do not see the opposition bloc as relevant in this situation. It is divided into several factions, between Mahathir and Anwar,” he told MalaysiaNow.

He said it was clear that Anwar had had no choice but to cancel a plan to scuttle the budget following the adjustments announced by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz during his winding-up speech.

“It is also a sign that any bloc voting at the committee stage would be futile,” he added.

“I do not see the opposition bloc as relevant in this situation.”

Yet, Musli said the nature of PH’s supporters would make it impossible for them to switch loyalties.

“PKR and DAP have hardcore supporters. Only a small number are swayed by current issues,” he said.

“This is unlike the supporters of Amanah and Mahathir, most of whom are affected by current issues.”

Musli added that Anwar still wields influence in PH, citing the fact that his last-minute directive had been obeyed.

Malay politics observer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff agreed that the “27-0” strategy is to redeem PH’s image, but he too is convinced of its futility.

“Maybe their image will be improved a little due to the fighting spirit shown, but at the same time it could also put a damper on the spirit of the supporters, who will now find out that the opposition does not have enough numbers to defeat the government,” he said.

He said the strategy to force bloc voting could also backfire on the opposition and undo whatever goodwill PH had created with the public and the palace, which had warned MPs against rejecting the budget.

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