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Malaysia’s budget tests support for its embattled prime minister

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (left) and Minister of Finance Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz (right) posing for pictures with the national 2021 budget after unveiling at the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur. MALAYSIA DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION/AFP

Malaysia’s budget tests support for its embattled prime minister

Malaysia’s government on Friday unveiled a blockbuster 2021 budget aimed at cushioning the coronavirus impact, with the embattled prime minister hoping for strong support to strengthen his tenuous hold on power.

Muhyiddin Yassin’s eight-month-old administration is highly unstable, with only a wafer-thin majority in parliament and under intense pressure from the opposition.

Political turmoil intensified last month after the king rejected Muhyiddin’s request to declare a state of emergency – a move he claimed was aimed at fighting the virus, but which critics said was a bid to cling to power.

The budget, which will be debated and voted on in the coming weeks, is seen as a test of confidence in Muhyiddin’s shaky administration and defeat could lead to its collapse.

However, most now expect it to pass as members of parliament want to avoid a general election as the country faces a resurgence in virus cases, and Muhyiddin has called for cross-party support.

The premier said the 2021 budget would “continue to focus on protecting the livelihood and welfare of the people, revitalising and supporting the economy”.

The government increased spending by 2.5 per cent to 322.5 billion ringgit ($78 billion) from this year, with a substantial chunk aimed at combating Covid-19.

Authorities estimated that the economy, which contracted sharply this year, will rebound strongly next year, growing 6.5-7.5 per cent.

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

Muhyiddin, who took power in March without a vote after a reformist government collapsed, faces a challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and there have been rumblings of discontent from his coalition partners.


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