COMMENT | Weakness is strength: Malaysia’s multi-partisan budget talks

Bridget Welsh

Modified 2 Nov 2020, 3:48 am

COMMENT | Over the weekend, Malaysian politics adopted a different pattern -away from division towards cooperation. For the first time, there were publicised (but closed-door) discussions with opposition/non-dominant parties over the national budget before the measures are to be announced in Parliament.

Informally, the budget process has long been a narrow consultative one, with ‘approved’ organisations from consumer groups to business organisations offering ideas and registering objections.

The meetings this weekend between Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz, his officers and non-dominant government political parties – Pakatan Harapan parties DAP, PKR and Amanah, Muda and Umno – are markedly different. They brought in alternative voices and were based on mutual respect and openness.

Zafrul’s technocratic background contributed to receptive and constructive dialogues. The meetings reflect the reality that the current Muhyiddin Yassin minority government needs these parties to vote to pass the budget. As such, multi-partisan consultation and buy-in from other political parties for their support is necessary. Muhyiddin’s political weakness has become an opportunity for the country.

I argue, out of this weakness, there is strength: broader party engagement will improve the budget process...

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