APEC Economic Leaders Meeting 2020, in Kuala Lumpur
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during opening remarks for virtual APEC Economic Leaders Meeting 2020, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

November 25, 2020

By Joseph Sipalan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s parliament will on Thursday decide whether to approve the government’s 2021 budget, in a vote that could decide Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s political future as the country grapples with a coronavirus-induced health and economic crisis.

Muhyiddin has held a two-seat parliamentary majority since taking power in March, but a recent leadership challenge by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and deepening rifts in his coalition have raised the stakes ahead of the crucial vote.

Losing the budget would be as good as a no-confidence vote, analysts have said, and could trigger an election at a time when Malaysia faces a fresh spike in coronavirus cases amid efforts to recover from its first economic contraction in over a decade.

Malaysia’s saw its cumulative cases rise by over four-fold since September to nearly 60,000 on Wednesday, in the aftermath of an election in Sabah state in Borneo.

Muhyiddin had called for cross-party support for his government’s budget, the largest in the country’s history, to boost economic recovery through higher development spending and with cash aid and subsidies for people and businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

On Tuesday, 20 members of the executive from his ruling coalition’s largest bloc, which is led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) former ruling party, pledged support for Muhyiddin and his budget.

But the premier faces dissent in UMNO, whose backing remains tenuous after former leader and Prime Minister Najib Razak attempted to broker conditional support for Anwar from among the party’s lawmakers.

“Nothing is certain at this stage. The fact that members of the administration had to declare their support suggests that not all of the backbenchers are for the budget,” said Adib Zalkapli, Malaysia director with political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Martin Petty)

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