Malaysia PM says govt signs pact with opposition on political stability

Malaysia PM says govt signs pact with opposition on political stability

This handout photo from Malaysia's Department of Information taken and released on Sept 13, 2021 shows Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (centre) waving as he arrives for the opening ceremony of the 14th parliamentary sessions in Kuala Lumpur.
This handout photo from Malaysia's Department of Information taken and released on Sept 13, 2021 shows Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (centre) waving as he arrives for the opening ceremony of the 14th parliamentary sessions in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Monday said the government has signed an agreement with the main opposition bloc on political transformation and stability. The memorandum of understanding includes strengthening of the country's Covid-19 plan, transformation of governance, and parliamentary reforms, the prime minister said in a statement.

Earlier story:

Malaysia’s government and main opposition alliance will sign an agreement on Monday to seek political stability in a nation that has seen three premiers in 18 months, a move that may also help Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob with any confidence vote.

The bi-partisanship cooperation would allow lawmakers to focus on efforts to control the pandemic and revive the economy, according to a statement from both sides late Sunday. The contents of the agreement will be announced for the sake transparency.

The pact marks Malaysia’s first ever federal-level Confidence and Supply Agreement, said Wong Chin Huat, a professor of political science at the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University in Malaysia. Ismail leads with a slim four-seat majority in parliament, and the support from the opposition could help him pass the 2022 budget -- which serves as a de facto confidence vote -- in October. 

He would be even stronger if the memorandum can give him a two-third majority in a vote of no-confidence, according to Wong. “That would serve like a vaccine to protect him for months, even if the government makes some blunders along the way,” he said.

Malaysia’s king named Ismail the nation’s third premier in less than two years, after determining that he had the support of 114 of the country’s 220 lawmakers. That support may be put to the test as parliament reconvenes for the first time under his premiership starting Monday for a 17-day sitting.

The bipartisan pact is the biggest step toward political stability for Malaysia ever since former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad abruptly resigned in February 2020. He was succeeded by Muhyiddin Yassin, whose razor thin majority crumbled last month amid infighting and a worsening Covid outbreak.

The agreement’s impact could well extend far into the 15th general election that is set to be held by 2023. 

“Parliament will likely be hung after GE15, and this CSA gives major parties a chance to learn how to co-exist with each other and compete professionally,” said Wong. “If it works and multi-partisanship gets internalized, we don’t have to worry about more party-hopping, coalition-hopping, frequent changes of PM after GE15.”

Malaysia’s monarch on Monday welcomed the efforts toward bi-partisan cooperation. The move could “shape a new political landscape and bring change to the country’s administrative system. It’s this kind of maturity that my people seek,” said Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah in in his royal address to open the parliament session.

Since taking power, Ismail has struck a conciliatory tone and actively sought to bridge the divide with the opposition. Last week he proposed an overhaul of rules involving the administration of government and lawmakers, including a ban on party-hopping and limiting the premier’s term to 10 years. 

Still, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Ismail was beset with criticism from the opposition when he appointed a cabinet that largely retained the same faces from the previous government.

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