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Malaysia’s embattled PM survives crucial budget test

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin takes part in the online Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Kuala Lumpur on November 20, 2020. (Photo by MOHD RASFAN / AFP)


Malaysia’s embattled prime minister survived a crucial test Thursday when MPs voted in favour of his budget — a much-needed boost for his crisis-wracked, nine-month-old government.

Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration would almost certainly have collapsed, prompting general elections, if lawmakers failed to back the budget in parliament.

He took power without a vote when a ruling coalition headed by veteran former premier Mahathir Mohamad fell apart amid bitter infighting, but his government has been accused of lacking legitimacy and is highly unstable.

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The 2021 spending plan — which focuses on fighting the coronavirus pandemic — was passed by voice vote, so it was not clear how many of the country’s 222 MPs backed it.

At 322.5 billion ringgit ($79 billion), it is the country’s biggest-ever budget.

While Muhyiddin’s government has only a wafer-thin majority in parliament, lawmakers are keen to avoid forcing a general election as the country battles Covid-19.

Muhyiddin hailed the victory, saying the budget was “crucial for the nation, and this support will enable the government to carry out all its plans next year”.

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The king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who had repeatedly urged MPs to back the spending plan, said it would “guarantee the well-being of the people and help in the economic recovery”.

There will be further votes on the budget, but Thursday’s was seen as the most important.

The result is a boost for Muhyiddin, whose government appeared on the brink of collapse last month when the king rejected his request to declare a state of emergency and suspend parliament.

Muhyiddin said the move was to help the virus fight but critics lambasted it as a bid to cling to power and avoid a showdown over the budget.

Malaysia has had a relatively mild virus outbreak but cases climbed sharply in recent weeks, leading authorities to re-impose some curbs.

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MalaysiaMuhyiddin Yassin
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