By Mohsin Abdullah
The opposition is finding itself having to do a lot of explaining over its failure to block the 2021 Budget in Parliament on Thursday Nov 26.
We are hearing of opposition party members and supporters doing a lot of questioning, demanding answers from leaders. And even the "neutrals" are doing that, although many claiming to be "neutrals" are pro-opposition.
But, all those mentioned above cannot be blamed for being confused, baffled, disappointed, angry, betrayed, and the list goes on.
After all, the opposition had given "indication" (sometimes subtle, other times not so) that they would not support Budget 2021 if their proposals for a better budget for the people were not met.
Their supporters, most of them anyway, had expected the Budget to be defeated, the government toppled and replaced by the parties they supported.
That did not happen. What happened was, as we know, there was an attempt by an opposition MP to call for a bloc vote but that did not meet the 15 MP threshold. Only 13 MPs stood up in support.
Thus, Budget 2021 passed through the second reading or policy stage with a voice vote.
Hence, the demand for explanation even among opposition MPs.
According to MalaysiaKini, opposition MPs have revealed that the move calling for voting en bloc was not supported after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, decided against it at the last minute.
Anwar later admitted that he had appealed to Amanah president Mohamad Sabu and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng not to proceed with a bloc vote.
Why? Because according to Anwar he did not want the opposition to be seen as rejecting new incentives announced by the finance minister in his winding up speech moments earlier.
DAP's parliamentary leader Anthony Loke said there were some elements in the Budget which the opposition, in this case Pakatan Harapan, supported.
In the words of Anwar, the well-being of the rakyat takes precedence and is top priority. Well and good.
But why did Amanah's Mahfuz Omar, who is Pakatan's MP for Pokok Sena, went ahead to propose bloc voting? And among the 13 MPs who stood up in support, at least six were from Amanah (including Mahfuz, naturally). Mohamad Sabu remained seated. Did the Amanah MPs acted against party line? And can this be seen as something suggesting a break in ranks within Amanah or Pakatan Harapan?
Khalid Samad, one of the Amanah MPs who stood in support of the bloc voting move. said they were not informed that Pakatan Harapan MPs had been told to stand down.
Malay Mail Online quoted him as insisting the visibly different position from others in Pakatan Harapan was not an indication of a rift in the opposition coalition.
"What happened in Parliament was so sudden that we did not have time to discuss what we were going to do after hearing about additions the finance minister was going to put into the Budget," Khalid was quoted saying.
But PKR MP Hassan Karim, who also stood up for the bloc voting, admitted he went against party line, following "my conscience, not the party whip". As quoted by The Star, he claimed he had already informed the party leadership that he was standing up. This would suggest MPs, at least from PKR, were informed or knew of Anwar's "instruction".
Tun Mahathir Mohamad, who is listed as an independent MP as his party Pejuang has not been officially registered, stood up. He was angry, saying "a government that is built from bribes and kickbacks to MPs and a government that is corrupt is being supported by these MPs and the opposition MPs without any sense of guilt that they have betrayed their promise to the people".
Mahathir, with four of his former Bersatu MPs. now sits with the opposition but is at loggerheads with Anwar. But Sabah's Warisan, seen as a Mahathir ally within the opposition, did not support the bloc voting move also.
To Umno's Datuk Seri Annuar Musa, "the opposition move was thwarted by the opposition themselves".
According to senior fellow at Ilham Center Dr Hamidin Abdul Hamid, the opposition obviously failed to come up with a common voice with regards to Budget 2021.
But he said prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is not out of the woods yet, as Budget 2021 passing the first vote is not a vote of confidence and "it's a temporary reprieve as the Budget can still be defeated at the committee stage, the final stage first scheduled for Dec 15 but has now been pushed to Dec 17.
At the committee stage, each ministry's budget will be scrutinized and debated. The government will have to defend and it will be voted one by one.
Anwar has vowed the opposition will call for bloc votes during the committee stage of debate beginning Monday Dec 1.
I can't help but wonder why take a longer route when an "easier" way was not used?
To PKR's MP Wong Chen, that was "a strategy, rightly or wrongly."
Some political observers believe while opposition lawmakers objected to the Budget through a voice vote, they did not seek a bloc voter because that would require votes to be counted.
This would reveal the exact number of MPs supporting Muhyiddin as prime minister. But if the opposition falls short, it would show that Muhyiddin commands a majority, thus legitimizing him as prime minister.
Thus, the opposition decided not to reveal the numbers after a group of Umno MPs decided not to derail Budget 2021 despite showing signs of doing so earlier.
Observers also believe that when Anwar was talking about having the numbers to take over Putrajaya a few months ago, he was convinced of Umno's support, but that support was pulled back at the last hour.
If that is true, then it can be said that Umno has deceived the opposition twice within months. True or not is anybody's guess.
Anyway, as Hamidin sees it, Muhyiddin will continue to depend on Umno support and his political lifeline is in the hands of Umno. The changes in policy in the Budget, according to the Ilham man, "is a manifestation of such a situation".
Come to think of it, the finance minister conceded to many of Umno's proposals for the Budget, or should it be "conditions", for support ?
Political analyst professor Dr Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid has this to say: "I think it's not a case of giving in to the opposition or Umno but rather the very real possibility of Pakatan Harapan regaining the reins of power is what suddenly motivated the coming together of Malay voices in Perikatan Nasional and Umno. They see threats posed by Anwar, Pakatan and DAP as more serious than a few budgetary details that can hopefully be sorted out at the negotiating table."
Still the fact that Budget 2021 has passed the first vote is hailed by government supporters as a victory for Muhyiddin and his administration.
Fauzi begs to differ: "This is no victory for Muhyiddin's government. If anything, the whole Budget saga proves that the government is a very weak one, having to survive from bill to bill in the face of potential capricious parliamentarians.
"It can't even guarantee support from backbenchers as the Bersatu-led government survives on the goodwill of larger parties in the ruling coalition."
Well, anyway back to the opposition (rather Anwar's) strategy which Wong Chen was talking about earlier, the opposition better hopes that was the right strategy.
(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist and now a freelancer who writes about this, that and everything else.)