Malaysian Opposition Leader Challenges PM in Court for Suspending Parliament During Emergency

Ray Sherman and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-01-26
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Malaysian Opposition Leader Challenges PM in Court for Suspending Parliament During Emergency Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim smiles during a news conference in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Feb. 26, 2020.
[Reuters]

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s purported advice to Malaysia’s king to suspend Parliament due to COVID-19 was illegal and unconstitutional, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said in a court filing this week, the second legal challenge to the embattled premier in January.

A statement from the National Palace on Jan. 12 said Muhyiddin had requested that the king declare a national emergency, but made no mention that Parliament would be suspended. Anwar alleged in his court filing in the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Monday that Muhyiddin had advised the king to suspend the legislature.

“I respectfully state that the cabinet led by Muhyiddin has acted in bad faith in advising the king to suspend Parliament, which is an abuse of their position, in an effort to achieve collateral purpose,” Anwar’s judicial review application said.

That purpose was “to prevent a motion of no confidence from being brought and presented against Muhyiddin because it is indisputable that Muhyiddin has lost the support of the majority of Parliamentarians in the assembly,” the document said.

This advice was “invalid and procedurally improper,” because Muhyiddin “does not have the mandate to give such advice,” Anwar said.

Support for Muhyiddin’s coalition fell to 109 among 220 MPs on Jan. 12, said Anwar, about the day the king declared the emergency. The monarch had cited a worrying escalation in coronavirus cases as justification for the emergency, which is slated to last till Aug. 1, unless the king is advised to end it an earlier date.

In a televised speech shortly after the royal emergency proclamation, Muhyiddin had said that Parliament and state assemblies would be suspended, and polls would not be held during the state of emergency.

Anwar’s judicial review application does not challenge the king’s emergency declaration, only the prime minister’s advice to the king to suspend Parliament, Ramkarpal Singh, an attorney representing the opposition leader, emphasized in a statement on Tuesday.

But it remained unclear how Anwar obtained the information that Muhyiddin had advised the king to suspend the Malaysian legislature. An aide to the opposition leader did not immediately respond to efforts by BenarNews to get an explanation on this.

An aide to Muhyiddin also did not return messages from BenarNews.

Anwar’s ‘correct approach’

Constitutional lawyer Lim Wei Jiet said that the validity of Muhyiddin’s advice to the king to declare an emergency was arguable in court.

“Anwar is correct in his approach in challenging the prime minister’s advice to the king to declare an emergency, and not the king’s decision on declaring the emergency,” Lim told BenarNews.

“In my view, the former is reviewable by the court if Anwar can establish bad faith or an ulterior motive in the prime minister’s advice to the king, whereas the latter’s decision on declaring an emergency may not be reviewable by the courts.”

Separate case

A separate case filed on Jan. 18 questioned the legality of a prime minister who has allegedly lost majority parliamentary support advising the king to declare an emergency.

Muhyiddin’s government currently has the support of less than half of lawmakers. And on Saturday, Anwar claimed that “114 or 115 MPs” oppose the emergency.

Much of the opposition has also criticized Muhyiddin’s advice to the king to declare an emergency, alleging it was a move by him to cling to power after he lost his parliamentary majority.

Muhyiddin and his Bersatu party created the Perikatan Nasional coalition to form the unelected government last year after the Pakatan Harapan government, which was elected in 2018, collapsed due to a power struggle.

Since then, UMNO, the dominant party in the ruling bloc, has become disenchanted with Bersatu and has been calling for snap polls.

Muhyiddin had said that his intention in advising the king to declare an emergency wasn’t to prevent elections, but to stem the spread of coronavirus infections.

Worsening pandemic

Anwar and many other opposition leaders said that Muhyiddin was using the worsening coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to declare an emergency.

Malaysia, during the last few weeks, has consistently recorded daily new COVID-19 infections in the four digits. As of Tuesday, a total of close to 200,000 cases had been reported, with 700 people dying from the virus.

The numbers of patients who need intensive care has also increased.

Muhyiddin had said earlier this month that a surge in coronavirus cases had pushed the healthcare system to “a breaking point.”

Anwar, in his judicial review application, said that the prime minister’s advice to suspend Parliament is “very disproportionate because parliamentary suspension is not needed at all to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Instead, the suspension of Parliament will give the PM and the government “absolute power to enact laws without going through the fundamental process of checks and balances,” Anwar said.

In a video recording he shared on Twitter on Tuesday, Anwar said the suspension of Parliament will affect the people of Malaysia in a time of pandemic.

“Last year the … government dodged and delayed Parliament multiple times to avoid facing the possibility of a challenge to its non-existent majority. This year the … government wishes to avoid Parliament again, hiding behind an unnecessary emergency declaration,” Anwar said.

“The result will inevitably be the needless and prolonged suffering of the Malaysian people.”

Two Malaysian medical groups had also said that Muhyiddin shouldn’t politicize the country’s health system, and should use the sweeping powers granted it under the emergency responsibly,

They said the government needs to formulate a collaborative COVID-19 response focused on the people’s welfare.

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