Malaysian Minister: Parliament Won’t Sit Until Emergency Ends, Cabinet Advised King

Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2021-03-03
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Malaysian Minister: Parliament Won’t Sit Until Emergency Ends, Cabinet Advised King Malaysia's members of parliament attend a session of the lower house of parliament, in Kuala Lumpur, July 13, 2020.
[Reuters]

Malaysia’s parliament won’t sit until a state of emergency ends on Aug. 1 and the cabinet has advised the king accordingly, the law minister said Wednesday, after the palace said last week that the house could meet during this period.

Opposition leaders said the reasons given for delaying a parliamentary session – such as that older lawmakers risked being infected with COVID-19 – did not hold up to scrutiny.

The emergency ordinance says there will be no legislative sitting during the emergency, Takiyuddin Hassan, the minister for Parliament and Law in the Prime Minister’s Department, told a news conference.

“Any call for a parliament session must follow a decision made by the cabinet,” Takiyuddin said.

“So now, the cabinet has advised the king that there will be no parliament sitting” during the emergency. That is the situation now.”

The cabinet collectively – and not Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin alone – had agreed to advise the king not to convene parliament, Takiyuddin said.

On Jan. 12, Muhyiddin suspended the legislature after the king declared the emergency, in a move criticized by the opposition.

The emergency was proclaimed to stem what was seen as an alarming increase in COVID-19 infections, the king said then, according to a statement from the National Palace.

After meeting with the heads of both houses of parliament on Feb. 24, King Al-Sultan Abdullah Riayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah said the assumption that parliament could not sit during an emergency was inaccurate based on provisions of the emergency ordinance.

The king “stated his view that Parliament can convene during the emergency and will take effect on a date that His Majesty deems suitable, on the advice of the prime minister,” the palace said last week.

After the king’s latest statement, analysts said that a parliamentary sitting could precipitate a no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin, whose unelected government came to power in early March 2020 but whose current majority support is in doubt.

But analysts also said that the PM would try to delay a parliamentary session as long as he could because the king was bound by the prime minister’s advice.

And Takiyuddin said as much on Wednesday.

“So the cabinet in giving the advice to postpone parliament ... this is not suspending the parliament but a postponement … because of several reasons. There was a legal basis, and reasons based on science and data,” Takiyuddin said.

‘Risk to MPs’

The main reason not to convene parliament, the minister said, was that just under half of the lawmakers from the current parliament were older than 61 and risked developing health complications if they caught the coronavirus.

“We do not want our MPs to be exposed to this, because we would be in a confined area. And whenever the parliament has a sitting, every MP would have at least three officers, and on top of this, government officers also have to be present,” Takiyuddin said.

This explanation did not wash with Pakatan Harapan, the main opposition coalition.

“The minister [Takiyuddin] did not tell the media that based on facts and data, none of the MPs were infected during the 55 days parliament sat last year,” Pakatan said in a statement, referring to the sessions held before the emergency was declared.

“There were also no clusters that emerged during that time that were related to the parliament sitting. It should be remembered also that none of the MPs were vaccinated at that time.”

This proves that the COVID-19 prevention measures instituted in parliament were effective, the opposition bloc said.

Pakatan “regrets the excuses given by Takiyuddin, which are weak, shallow, and do not respect his majesty’s statement on February 24, when it was announced parliament can convene during the emergency period.”

Malaysia began COVID-19 inoculations on Feb. 24, with Muhyiddin volunteering to take the country’s first dose.

Coronavirus infections have fallen off in Malaysia since reaching a peak at the end of January.

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