Round one goes to the prime minister as Budget 2021 passed the first test amidst much drama. As the vote monopolised our news feeds yesterday, the majority of local news we're bringing you today is on that most important of issues, from what happened to what comes next.

Meanwhile, our Covid-19 numbers remain almost the same as yesterday, and it was another record-breaking day as far as recoveries are concerned.

The Budget & Anwar's Gambit

Budget's passed... for now

Remember how Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed to have a “strong, convincing and formidable majority” to take over the government back in September? Well, it kinda sorta all went bust yesterday.

You see, the first litmus test for the PM-forever-in-waiting was also one for PM Muhyiddin Yassin, and it would appear that Moo has won this one over Abang Nuar. That litmus test, of course, was Budget 2021, which passed the first vote in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday despite the opposition having largely and loudly objected to the budget since it was tabled earlier this month.

Before we get to that, let’s talk the budget first. In the remaining winding-up speeches by ministers, several “goodies” were announced which hinted that things would actually go Moo’s way during voting.

One was Health Minister Adham Baba announcement the gomen had agreed to absorb more contract medical staff into permanent positions. This was something that an opposition MP had brought up much earlier. 

Next was Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz who included a while bunch of stuff brought up by MPs in his winding-up speech . Among them:

  • One-off RM300 payment to all frontliners, including police officer, soldiers and Rela members. This is in addition to the RM500 already announced for medical frontliners; 
     
  • Auto-approval process for a three-month loans moratorium for B40 and micro SMEs. 

    Meanwhile, those in the M40 category need only make a document-free declaration at their respective banks and the moratorium will be approved within one to five days;
     
  • Withdrawal of up to RM10,000 from Account 1 of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to those whose income was reduced this year due to the pandemic.

The Chief Moneybags Man also said the gomen will be making some cuts, most importantly to the Propaganda Special Affairs Department (Jasa).

All in, seven Umno proposals were conceded to by the Perikatan gomen, apparently. And this was not only important for the budget to be passed, considering the party’s earlier demands which we’ve talked about ad nauseam, but also to ensure Anwar didn’t get his way. 

But we get ahead of ourselves. All these goodies announced by the gomen led to the 2021 Budget being passed at the policy stage by voice vote. 

Strong. Formidable. Not very convincing.

A brave attempt by Amanah’s Pokok Sena MP Mahfuz Omar to get a bloc vote failed to garner enough support from Pakatan Harapan’s own camp. He only managed to wrangle 13 MPs, two short of the minimum required. 

FYI, bloc or divisional voting allows for each MP’s vote to be formally recorded and tallied. This mean and official record of the numbers. Majority of votes in favour of the budget could be seen as majority support for Moo and co., and would legitimise his prime ministership. That’s the last thing the opposition, especially Anwar, would want.

Former PM4/7 Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his Pejuang members were among those supported the bloc vote. When this didn’t happen, the world’s most vocal nonagenarian slammed opposition MPs, saying they didn’t have a shred of remorse for breaking their promises to the people. 

Needless today, several lower-level Pakatan leaders and netizens were miffed and demanded an explanation from their bosses. According to news reports, fingers pointed to Port Dickson (Anwar la) as he opted not to have the numbers counted when it became clear Umno would support the Moo’s budget.

With Perikatan having conceded to including the Umno proposals, it was obvious BN would vote in favour of the budget, meaning that it would have passed anyway, with or without Pakatan “ayes”. 

Let’s bring it back to the “strong, formidable majority” load of crap Anwar dumped on us two months ago. For him to make that claim, it was rumoured that at least some Umno MPs were supporting him.

The PKR had honcho has since claimed he’d asked allies to let the budget pass at the policy stage as he did not want it to look like his coalition rejected the shiny new incentives by Minister Zaf, among others. He, however, vowed to continue the fight at the committee stage. 

Whatever the reason, though, the budget was passed and PM MooMoo lauded those who voted in favour of it, saying that they showed political maturity

Was that a shrewd political move, or just an excuse? We’ll just have to wait and see, we guess. As it stands, it Muhyiddin 1 – Anwar 0.

So, what comes next?

So, how now brown cow. Well, there’s still some way to go before Belanjawan 2021 is passed proper.

Despite the debacle over the passing of the budget at the policy stage, Pakatan MPs lived to fight another day. That day will come on Monday.

The budget will now go to the committee stage of debates. This is where debates really get into the nitty-gritty of the fiscal plan, with the committee stage involving going through and voting on each ministry’s budget one-by-one. 

So, while the main budget’s been passed, and allocations set aside, the individual budgets of each ministry have not and are still up for scrutiny. As Brother Anwar has said, details were previously scant on ministry-specific budgets. 

Up to 10 days have been allocated starting Monday for this committee stage. You can read more on the voting process in this good guide.

The passing of the budget, while only at the initial stage, has garnered enthusiastic support from several quarters, including frontliners, NGOs and businesses. The news was even received well in trading circles as Bursa Malaysia ended with a bang, closing at 14.53 points higher than the previous day. 

In other news from the Dewan Rakyat, de facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan says motions of confidence for and against PM Moo may actually see the light of day during the current session if the House manages to deal with all scheduled government affairs. That’s a big if.

Private matters, like the confidence motions, will only be heard once all gomen matters are seen to unless a minister moves for it to be heard first. If you recall, two MPs have moved to file motions of confidence for Muhyiddin while a record 25 went the other way. 

Meanwhile, Umno and PAS have agreed to register their Muafakat Nasional pact but will contest GE15 using their respective logos while staying out of each other’s way. Looks like the honeymoon is over between the two rival turned partners.

So, what does this have to do with the budget or Parliament? Well, it’s an indication that Umno, at least, is already gearing up for GE15 and if Moo Yassin and gang think the passing of the budget means he has the undivided support of Umno and BN, well he should think again.

BN has already openly said they will back Muh only until fresh elections can be held once the public health situation improves. So, Muhyiddin shouldn’t be too damned smug with recent event as this budget could not only be the first to be passed with him as PM, it could be his last.

A ‘good’ Covid-19 record and other things

You would have been forgiven if you thought yesterday’s Covid-19 numbers seemed like a carbon copy of the day before.

For the second day in a row, new cases were happily below the four-figure mark, coming in at 935. For the second day straight, we registered a record number of recoveries, at 2,555. This means active cases are now down to 11,348. Sadly, there were also 3 deaths, pushing the toll to 348

The bulk of yesterday’s cases came from Sabah (326), Selangor (161) and Negeri Sembilan (158), with N9’s ‘Bakti’ cluster providing the largest number from a single cluster at 95. Also, six new clusters were detected yesterday.  

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has slammed the government’s inaction in enforcing new housing standards for migrant workers much, much earlier. This follows a statement from Colourful Baju Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri Yaakob two days ago that the Human Resource Ministry would begin strictly enforcing said new standards. 

MMA has said cramped living conditions helped diseases spread easily. Employers had been given a grace period up till Aug 31 to comply with the new regulations, so enforcement should have begun on Sept 1. 

Meanwhile, the Labour Department’s claimed hostels in Ipoh for workers of a glove manufacturer were found to be overcrowded and filthy. The dept didn’t name the glove company but said raids were carried out after a spike in Covid cases linked to said company’s factory in Selangor.

Incidentally, this comes after glove-making giant Top Glove recently denied HR Minister M Saravanan’s claim as to the horrible condition of the company’s worker hostels. Top Glove employees at its Klang operations are at the heart of the ‘Teratai’ cluster, the largest Covid cluster in the country with over 4,000 cases to date.

There were a few other things that caught our eye yesterday but didn’t really warrant whole segments of their own, so here they are:

  • The latest draft amendments to the controversial Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 will be presented for state-level discussions by early next year before it’s tabled in Parliament. 
     
  • The Foreign Ministry is willing to work with China or any other country to bring everybody’s favourite fugitive financier Low Taek Jho, more affectionately known as Jho Low, back to the country. 
     
  • A survey by local think tank The Centre surmises that 87% of Malaysians, no matter their race, believe that hate speech is a serious problem here. We don’t need a survey to tell us that. 
     
  • Opposition assemblypersons in Johor will receive a threefold increase in allocation, from RM50,000 to RM150,000 in the Johor 2021 Budget that’s been tabled. 

    A politically-inspired move or not, this is a step in the right direction by the PN-run gomen!
     
  • The King has consented to the conferment of Panglima Gagah Berani (PGB) medals, the nation’s second-highest award for valour, and the rank of sergeant on slain General Operations Force member Baharuddin Ramli and his partner, Norihan Tari, who were shot by smugglers at the Malaysia-Thailand border in Perlis on Tuesday. 
     
  • Kedah police have not ruled out the possibility that another GOF member who was injured in an incident on Wednesday was attacked by a member of another smuggling syndicate
     
  • Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in Malaysia, at 16,374 out of 109,164 medically-certified deaths last year. This represents 15% of the total. 
     
  • Another standoff between Malaysian and Chinese ships has occurred, this time between the Royal Malaysian Navy and China Coast Guard. 
     
  • Legendary singer, actress and overall super-everything icon Saloma was honoured with a doodle on Google’s search engine homepage yesterday. The artwork, which depicted a 1950s Saloma in trademark getup and hairdo, was to commemorate the day she received the Biduanita Negara title in 1978. 

“Budget: A mathematical confirmation of your suspicions.”

- A.A. Latimer -

IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS

  • The number of Covid-19 cases globally has surged past 60 million, taking only 17 days to hit that number from 50 million. 
     
  • AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine has hit a setback as a lack of clarity on why two different dosing regimens were used and why one test group was significantly smaller than the other has raised concerns among experts.
     
  • There were life sentences aplenty yesterday. The prisoner who killed Richard Huckle, the monster who was serving 22 concurrent life sentences in England for sexually abusing 200 infants and children in Malaysia, was himself jailed for life, while similar sentences were given to hundreds of people in Turkey for a 2016 coup attempt. 
     
  • Australia’s defence forces have sent notices of likely dismissal to 10 special forces commandos suspected of being accessories or witnesses to the murder of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners. They are separate from the 19 Special Air Service troops who could face prosecution for the murders. 
     
  • In today’s edition of weird news of the world, a Kazakh bodybuilder has “married” a sex doll after 18 months of “courtship”. We actually carried a report earlier of how his previous wedding plans had to be postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER

This weekday newsletter is brought to you by Trident Media, a group of Malaysian journalists with 60 years of combined media experience in four countries across TV, print and digital media.

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Trident Media · Seksyen 35 · Shah Alam, Selangor 40470 · Malaysia

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