KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s opposition on Monday demanded Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration spend more funds under the 2021 budget to manage the coronavirus pandemic, or risk defeat of the budget seen as key to survival of his government.
The future of Muhyiddin’s administration rests on the passage of the budget, as his two-seat parliamentary majority is tested by a leadership challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and cracks appear in his ruling coalition.
A defeat would amount to a no-confidence vote, analysts say, and would plunge Malaysia into more political instability as the country’s economy grapples with its first economic contraction in over a decade.
The government presented the country’s biggest-ever budget on Friday, aimed at spurring economic recovery through higher development spending, besides subsidy and cash aid programmes for people and businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.
But Anwar said the budget has set aside billions for lower-priority infrastructure projects while neglecting the needs of the people in coping with loss of jobs and livelihood due to the pandemic, or improving access to education.
“We have been told, urged, asked and advised to support a COVID-19 budget. And we will only support a COVID-19 budget,” Anwar told parliament when debating the budget.
The opposition had earlier made six demands for the government’s budget, including expansion of social security, extension of wage subsidies and bank loan moratoriums and guaranteed job creation.
Last month, Muhyiddin called for cross-party support for the budget, after the king told lawmakers to back the government’s spending plans to manage the disease amid a fresh spike in coronavirus cases.
Total infections in Malaysia have tripled since September to over 40,000 cases as of Sunday, including 286 deaths, with many infections traced to an election in Sabah state in Borneo.
Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Martin Petty