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Dewan Rakyat – shaken, not stirred

No-strings-attached bipartisan support is critically necessary to interpret the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s advice on Oct 26 in his rejection of the Emergency proclamation proposed by the government.

The Agong advised all MPs to give priority to the rakyat’s interest by way of supporting Budget 2021 for the wellbeing of the people and to heal the economy. Therefore, such support during these challenging times is very much dependent on every MP’s moral compass and sense of duty to the Agong and rakyat at large, without fear or favour.

In recent days, there has been extensive discussions and speculations within the passageway of power regarding the introduction of a confidence-and-supply agreement to seal guaranteed bipartisan support.

So, I thought it might be a good idea to do some research on what a confidence-and-supply agreement means and how it has been practised in other Westminster systems.

What is a confidence-and-supply agreement (C&S)?

A ‘C&S’ is a limited cooperation arrangement between political parties guaranteeing support for a minority government, i.e. a political party or a coalition of parties that do not have a majority of overall seats in Parliament.

A C&S gives support to parliamentary votes that are critical to the survival of the government – typically formal confidence motions and votes on budgets and spending plans. In return, the supporting parties can receive different types of specified concessions. The scope and detail of such agreements can vary substantially.

Why would a government consider a C&S instead of a coalition agreement?

A coalition government in a Westminster system may, at some point, find itself facing issues in securing a simple majority. Why?

This is because political parties in a coalition government may have conflicting ideologies, leading to differing opinions on a certain policy decision. Inevitably, the passing of a particular legislation in Parliament will be an uphill challenge due to these philosophical differences.

A C&S agreement gives parties more distance from the government’s core.

On the other hand, when parties agree to form a coalition, they become a government together via a formal coalition agreement, with a joint policy plan.

When is a C&S applied?

A C&S is applied when a minority government requires the support of other political parties to pass a significant bill, for example, a supply bill.

It is technically an informal agreement, as opposed to a full coalition government agreement between political parties. A C&S has also been used in several countries to form a ‘coalition’ government.

How do you operationalise a C&S?

A C&S if agreed upon, it would be the first of its kind in Malaysia. However, confidence-and-supply agreements are not uncommon in other parts of the world.

Some examples:

a) New Zealand – a C&S agreement was entered between New Zealand Labour Party and the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand in order to change the government.

b) Australia – the Australian Labor Party had formed a minority government in the hung Parliament elected in 2010 by forming a C&S agreement with three independent MPs and one Green MP.

c) United Kingdom – in the aftermath of the 2017 general election which left Theresa May’s Conservative Party without a majority, a C&S agreement was agreed with the Democratic Unionist Party.

What is the duration for a C&S?

The duration varies from one country to another. Besides being a fluid concept with no specific legislation to its creation, it is usually a one-off arrangement and subject to agreement between the political parties.

In conclusion, the use of C&S is only necessary when the government believes that the Supply Bill is at risk of not securing the necessary support from its partners.

Unlike the examples given above (New Zealand, Australia and the UK), Malaysia is already governed by a coalition. Hence, it begs the question of why a C&S is relevant at this point?

Without full disclosure or certainties of the elements entailed in the C&S agreement being offered, any attempt towards this effort may raise more questions than answers!

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