Rebelling Mps May Force Muhyiddin To Tweak Jasa Allocation To Secure Budget 2021
Opposition MPs who initially indicated a willingness to support Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's Budget 2021 are now weighing their options amid a controversy surrounding the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government's plan to spend RM85.5 million in order to revive the Special Affairs Department (Jasa), which previously acted as a propaganda unit.
Several opposition MPs who spoke to Malaysiakini expressed strong objections to the allocation and are now weighing how to vote but will only come to a final decision after consultation with their parties.
Others, however, said they will outright vote against the budget if the government did not abort the plan to splurge RM85.5 million on a propaganda unit during a period of economic downturn due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among them was Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng who is from the DAP, a component party in Pakatan Harapan.
"There is no reason for the PN government to have Jasa when we already have national news agency Bernama. The RM85.5 million can be given to frontliners fighting Covid-19.
"I will certainly reject this Budget 2021 if Muhyiddin insists on reviving Jasa," he said.
Muhyiddin can still get Budget 2021 passed without bipartisan support, but he will need almost unanimous support from government backbenchers due to his thin majority in the Dewan Rakyat.
Muhyiddin commands the support of 113 MPs in the 222-member Dewan Rakyat, only two more than a tie.
However, there is presently one vacancy in Parliament following the passing of Warisan's Batu Sapi MP Liew Vui Keong.
Trying to get Budget 2021 passed along partisan lines is risky as there are also rebels within Muhyiddin's own ranks, in particular Umno.
Already, some Umno MPs aren't too happy about the effort to revive Jasa although it previously served as the de facto propaganda arm of the party.
Umno MP wants more justification
Umno's Pasir Salak MP Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (photo) wants the government to justify the RM85.5 million spending on Jasa.
"What do they want to do with it? Is this project meant for the people?
"If it is about disseminating information about the government, we already have the Communications and Multimedia Ministry. So what kind of information Jasa will be providing? Is it an overlap?" Tajuddin told Malaysiakini.
When pressed if he will vote for the budget if it funds Jasa's revival, Tajuddin said he wants more information from the government.
"It's not that we disagree but we want to know what this allocation will be for? What are the projects and activities?
"We want to know whether it is justified. We want to know what they want to do with it," he said.
Umno supreme council member Mohd Puad Zarkashi, who led Jasa as the director-general prior to its dissolution in 2018, was more upfront about Umno's concern.
Umno was previously comfortable with Jasa as it had essentially acted as the party's de facto propaganda arm when it led the BN government until it was ousted in 2018.
The Harapan government dissolved Jasa when it came to power in the 2018 general election but the short-lived government was subsequently replaced by PN in which Umno is now just a partner to Bersatu instead of the dominant player in government.
Taking to Facebook, Puad (photo) questioned if Bersatu was planning to use Jasa to bolster the party in order to compensate for its lack of grassroots support - essentially serving Bersatu the way it had served Umno in the past.
He then suggested tweaks to the budget including possibly reducing the proposed RM85.5 million allocation.
Harapan to deliberate on joint action
There has also been a chorus of objections within other Harapan parties, which some Umno MPs have been flirting with to rattle Muhyiddin.
"The allocation for Jasa is too huge and we know it's for propaganda. And at times like these (during a pandemic), it is not proper. That allocation could be used for the rakyat," said Amanah vice president Mahfuz Omar.
However, Mahfuz wants any action to be a collective one by Harapan and will be consulting Amanah's partners in the coalition.
Echoing this was PKR vice-president Chang Lih Kang. "Based on the trend with Jasa, it's a no-go," he said. However, a formal position will only be made after consultation.
Another PKR lawmaker Tan Yee Kew (photo) said the opposition also needs to consider the consequences of voting down Budget 2021 despite disagreeing with the allocation for Jasa.
"The Prime Minister has to withdraw (allocation for Jasa). Now it's not just opposition MPs protesting, but also ordinary folks.
"At the same time, how serious will the effect be if we vote down the budget? We don't want to see people suffering at this time, already they are suffering, they are waiting for financial aid.
"So we have to look at that. We will ask for the budget to be amended," the Wangsa Maju MP told Malaysiakini.
Tan said she will toe the party line once a decision is made.
The opposition is under royal pressure to approve Budget 2021 after the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong impressed upon them the importance of ensuring funding, particularly for the fight against Covid-19, in the next fiscal year.
However, the budget will be voted on ministry by ministry instead of as a whole and the opposition could adopt tactical voting.
Meanwhile, another opposition party, the yet-to-be-registered Parti Pejuang Tanah Air is waiting on its de facto leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is also the Langkawi MP, for a decision.
This is according to Sri Gading MP Shahruddin Md Salleh who is one of the party's four representatives in the Dewan Rakyat.
It was previously speculated that Mahathir may consider backing Muhyiddin if Umno tries to break down his government after he met with representatives from the PN government.
However, Mahathir has downplayed it. Officially, Pejuang has held back from committing to blanket support for Budget 2021, stating that it wants to scrutinise the details first. - Mkini
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