A friend called me last Saturday, telling me that he wanted to ask me two specific questions.
One, whether I think 2021 Budget will be passed or rejected come Nov 26 and two, my personal views on the budget.
My friend is a businessman and like all in the biz world, he has his concerns on the implications and ramifications of the budget.
Like all businesses too, he has felt the full brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. In his own words, “if the situation carries on as it is for another year or so, there is every likelihood that I will have to fold up or in the worst-case scenario, declare bankruptcy”.
Welcome to the real business world today, folks.
On my friend’s Question One, my honest answer is “I don’t know as I’m not privy to the “wheeling and dealing” among the coalition partners”.
I believe Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin must have instructed his finance minister to do whatever is necessary to pacify the MPs on his side who have expressed their unhappiness over the budget.
This will probably entail some serious amendments to the supply bill.
As it stands at the time of writing, the grouses from government backbenchers in particular should worry the prime minister.
Then again, as I’ve written previously, this is a “parliament of baboons” and we will never know or able to comprehend their mood or behaviour come the crunch time.
Although a vote on 2021 Budget has been scheduled on Nov 26, anything can still happen.
This is politics, people, and it is as unpredictable as the weather. The legislature is made up of politicians and we can never tell what they are up to. I will not be surprised if they spring some ‘surprises’ on Thursday.
Ministers had started wrapping up the policy stage debate on the budget from Nov 23-25. If all goes according to schedule, the finale will be on Nov 26, after which there will be the vote on the budget.
Let us also not forget the advice from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to MPs to support the supply bill. Whether the King’s unprecedented message to the lawmakers will have a bearing on the vote or not is anyone’s guess.
The situation still appears to be fluid. But the vote, if it takes place, will be the litmus test for the Muhyiddin administration and his weak Perikatan Nasional governing coalition.
The loud voices of discontent from three Umno bigwigs, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, should not be taken lightly.
Former PM Najib has made his demands clear — BN will only support the budget if there are a blanket loan moratorium extension and permission for a RM10,000 withdrawal from an individual’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF) Account 1.
Meanwhile, Zahid has called for the government to put Muhyiddin’s control of the Lower House to the test.
And long-serving Gua Musang MP Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has declared that he won’t participate in the 2021 Budget debate as long as Dewan Rakyat Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun refuses to allow a test of confidence on Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional government.
I guess we are all aware that voting down the budget is viewed as a proxy for a no-confidence vote against the prime minister.
Perhaps, it is of some comfort to Muhyiddin that the opposition block is also not united on the budget and the impending vote.
If opposition MPs are permitted to vote away from party lines, which is unlikely, then Muyhiddin’s chances of survival is better. If not, the prime minister has a mountain to climb.
On my friend’s second poser, I have my answer ready. Coincidentally, the night before he called me, I had written in my column in a national news portal about my views on the budget.
“I stand behind the majority of opposition MPs and some government backbenchers in opposing 2021 Budget as it is.
“A political budget to favour a sitting government and not a people’s budget should never be allowed to sail through in Parliament.
“A race-centric budget is never about Malaysians. It smacks of bad, real bad politics”, I wrote.
Above all, what I find painfully lacking in Budget 2021 is that the poor and downtrodden are not the main recipients of government support.
A discriminatory and outrageously sectarian budget which I would describe as “un-Malaysian” is a total disgrace.
I rest my case.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.