Opposition, govt can now negotiate for reforms, support, says analyst

Tan Yih Pey

Political analyst Wong Chin Huat says the govenrment's slim majority in Parliament means the opposition can now negotiate for reforms with the administration in exchange for its support on bills. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, July 20, 2020.

THE Perikatan Nasional (PN) government with its slim majority in Parliament can consider a confidence-and-supply agreement with the opposition in exchange for reforms, said political analyst Wong Chin Huat. 

Prime Muhyiddin Yassin’s government last Monday narrowly passed his motion to remove the Dewan Rakyat speaker by 111 to 109 MPs, out of 222 lawmakers, a sign of potential difficulties PN may face in future votes in the house.

As speculation of a snap general election continues, PN’s ability to put up a united front is also tenuous, with various statements from PAS and Umno about not giving way in seat allocations to Muhyiddin’s party, Bersatu.

Fresh polls will not necessarily resolve political instability or bring about a clear majority for a side that Malaysians have been so used to under six decades of Barisan Nasional rule. 

As such, it is time the country consider the Westminster-style confidence-and-supply agreement, Wong said.

A confidence-and-supply agreement is one whereby a party or independent members of parliament will support the government in motions of confidence and appropriation or budget votes, by either voting in favour or abstaining.

“The current issue in the country’s political situation is whether the government needs a majority to ensure political stability. But no political party can hold more than half of the seats, because East Malaysia MPs are becoming more and more independent-minded,” he told The Malaysian Insight’s Mandarin talk show recently.

There is a chance for political stability if the government and opposition can reach a confidence-and-supply agreement, provided there is political will and maturity to make exchanges.

“Muhyiddin could promise to implement reforms, decentralise power and share power in parliament, so that the opposition is able to be a check and balance on the government,” Wong said.

Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching said such an agreement is theoretically possible if PN is willing to negotiate.

“PN can try to negotiate with the opposition to pass the budget. PN can offer policy reform in exchange for support.

“It’s not impossible, it’s just that we don’t see such a trend at present,” she said in the same talk show.

PN has a slim margin of four MPs based on the count taken when voting for the speaker’s removal last Monday.

Two of its MPs did not vote as one was the deputy speaker who presided over the session, and another was on sick leave. The opposition, meanwhile, had 109 MPs who did not want the speaker removed.

Teo said this almost-equal balance of power increases the chances of snap polls being held soon.

She was concerned that this will cause the political situation to remain in flux, with voters on the losing end as politicians focus on winning rather than policy-making.

For a confidence-and-supply deal to be possible, Wong said, there must be parliamentary reforms to promote multi-party competition.

Other governments based on a parliamentary system, including those of the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, India and Canada, have successfully worked with confidence-and-supply agreements.

It is time Malaysian politics matures to break out of its deadlock otherwise the inability to reach consensus will cause further destabilisation and party-hopping, Wong said. – July 20, 2020.

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