Employment and welfare of the people should be the focus of the Government
Opposition leader also cautions against early polls, pointing to need to focus on Covid-19 crisis
MTN – Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has defended the memorandum of nderstanding (MOU) reached between his Pakatan Harapan coalition and the government led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, insisting that it led to parliamentary reforms and an agreement to implement the new lower voting age before the end of the year.
But Datuk Seri Anwar stressed that many contentious issues remained on the table, particularly over the issue of corruption, and warned that Pakatan Harapan (PH) support for the upcoming budget later this month was far from guaranteed.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Mr Anwar also cautioned against a snap general election to resolve the political logjam in the country. He argued that Malaysia was nowhere near to claiming any success in dealing with the Covid-19 health crisis as the country enters its second week of the resumption of interstate travel.
Mr Anwar’s assessment of the MOU, which among other things stipulates that a fresh general election can only be called after end July next year, is in sharp contrast to the position held by several of his colleagues in the opposition.
They feel that it has handcuffed PH and allowed Datuk Seri Ismail to govern without subjecting his government to a confidence vote in Parliament since he was appointed in late August.
He acknowledged that there was some griping within PH that the opposition may have conceded too much in the hastily put together MOU, adding that he was generally unhappy with its patchy progress.
“This is not a reform government… but as it stands now I would advise not to sacrifice the health of the people. What is a priority is employment, welfare and livelihood should be the focus of the government,” he said.
The unprecedented agreement reached between the government and the opposition on Sept 13 has helped to sharply reduce political tensions in Malaysia which have been simmering since early last year, just before the 22-month-old PH government collapsed in late February 2020.
Speaking at his office in the leafy residential suburb in Petaling Jaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, Mr Anwar noted that the current government was fragile with a wafer-thin majority in Parliament.
He also said that the testy relationship among those in the coalition propping up the government was what compelled Mr Ismail to enter into the arrangement with the opposition and “concede to a number of points”.
Mr Anwar acknowledged that among the more contentious issues with the government was a new law to prevent elected politicians from switching parties, a practice that has been at the root of Malaysia’s political troubles. He said more time was needed to iron out differences.
But several PH officials see trouble ahead over the government’s snailpaced approach to the so called anti-hopping law.
They say the opposition has set a deadline for end-March next year for the new reform law to be introduced.
Factions within the Prime Minister’s own party, Umno, are also opposed to the formulation of an anti-hopping law, the absence of which has served the party well previously.
Several opposition leaders have also warned that the MOU could be a double-edged sword for PH.
“Should the pandemic return and the economy fail to bounce back, public sentiment could move against us because we backed the MOU and did not play our role as the opposition,” said a senior Democratic Action Party (DAP) leader who is in favour of early polls. The DAP is a major component of the PH coalition along with PKR and the smaller Amanah.
The big test for the MOU will come later this month when the government unveils its budget for 2022.
The opposition has demanded that direct financial assistance be given to the rural and urban poor as part of a RM45 billion (S$14.6 billion) recovery package.
The opposition has also proposed an exemption in interest payments on loan moratoriums in the banking sector.
Mr Anwar said the opposition would stand firm on its demands but noted that ongoing discussions between Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz and PH representatives had been encouraging.
“Credit must be given to the finance minister for the issue of joint discussions seriously because it is unprecedented in our country,” he said. [TST]
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