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Business & Finance

Malaysia's embattled PM survives crucial budget test

  • Muhyiddin Yassin's administration would almost certainly have collapsed, prompting general elections, if lawmakers failed to back the budget in parliament.
26 Nov 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's embattled prime minister survived a crucial test Thursday when MPs voted in favour of his budget -- a much-needed boost for his crisis-wracked, nine-month-old government.

Muhyiddin Yassin's administration would almost certainly have collapsed, prompting general elections, if lawmakers failed to back the budget in parliament.

He took power without a vote when a ruling coalition headed by veteran former premier Mahathir Mohamad fell apart amid bitter infighting, but his government has been accused of lacking legitimacy and is highly unstable.

The 2021 spending plan -- which focuses on fighting the coronavirus pandemic -- was passed by voice vote, so it was not clear how many of the country's 222 MPs backed it.

At 322.5 billion ringgit ($79 billion), it is the country's biggest-ever budget.

While Muhyiddin's government has only a wafer-thin majority in parliament, lawmakers are keen to avoid forcing a general election as the country battles Covid-19.

Muhyiddin hailed the victory, saying the budget was "crucial for the nation, and this support will enable the government to carry out all its plans next year".

The king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who had repeatedly urged MPs to back the spending plan, said it would "guarantee the well-being of the people and help in the economic recovery".

There will be further votes on the budget, but Thursday's was seen as the most important.

The result is a boost for Muhyiddin, whose government appeared on the brink of collapse last month when the king rejected his request to declare a state of emergency and suspend parliament.

Muhyiddin said the move was to help the virus fight but critics lambasted it as a bid to cling to power and avoid a showdown over the budget.

Malaysia has had a relatively mild virus outbreak but cases climbed sharply in recent weeks, leading authorities to re-impose some curbs.