Anwar didn’t have the numbers for bloc vote, says analyst

(FMT) – Political analysts say opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim may have lacked a sufficient number of MPs to shoot down the federal budget at the vote on the second reading of the supply bill on Thursday.

He may have opted not to call for a bloc vote as he did not have the number of MPs needed, said James Chin of the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute.

The PKR president would have suffered embarrassment if he had called for the vote but failed to stop the second reading of the bill from being approved, especially given his abortive attempt to take over Putrajaya in September, Chin said.

“It’s quite clear that his recent move to pull down the government amid the Covid-19 crisis and Sabah elections has turned out to be a straw man. He just doesn’t have the numbers. Or if he did have the numbers, the numbers have abandoned him,” Chin said.

“He would not have wanted a vote when it would clearly show that he doesn’t have the numbers. This way, he can actually claim he still has the numbers to block at the committee stage.

“Many people are very frustrated with Anwar and the opposition, but they have to be realistic. There was no way the opposition could have put up a united front against this budget,” he told FMT.

He said the opposition might have missed its biggest chance as the vote on Thursday was the more important one, adding that Muhyiddin’s position was “quite safe” for now.

He foresees changes being made to the budget at the committee stage to accommodate the demands of MPs in exchange for their support.

“So even if they want to block it, it’s highly unlikely that they will be able to because individual MPs’ concerns will be taken care of by the government.”

He said the opposition’s only choice would be for all to come together at the next parliamentary session as a united front, something he believes cannot be achieved, while the next big opportunity would be at the next general election.

Umno MPs hold the key

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said the opposition’s chances of toppling Muhyiddin were dimmed after the Umno leadership and backbenchers decided to back the budget.

He said the support of Umno MPs, even if just a handful of them, would be a key factor.

“Because Umno backbenchers did not back him (Anwar) up at the last moment, that’s why he felt that he couldn’t win yesterday (on Thursday), therefore deciding not to effectuate the bloc vote,” he told FMT.

However, he said another consideration in Anwar’s mind might be the fact that Muhyiddin could still choose not to resign even if the budget did fail on Thursday, as the prime minister could argue that it was not the final vote yet.

“Although it will be the honourable thing for Muhyiddin to do and it’s a constitutional convention in the Westminster system we subscribe to, there’s nothing in the written constitution which says he has to resign if he fails this vote.

“Assuming the budget was outvoted but Muhyiddin refuses to step down and makes all sorts of constitutional arguments, it would be very messy.

“Maybe Anwar would like to wait until the third reading and final vote to really try his luck at toppling the government. But of course, not many people understand this, they’re all questioning him and the opposition’s credibility,” he said.