Malaysia's attorney-general says Cabinet, not King, decides when Parliament will sit

The debate on when Parliament should sit has been hotly debated. PHOTO: MALAYSIA'S DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION/AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's attorney-general on Friday (June 25) waded into a raging debate over whether the country's constitutional monarch has the right to call for Parliament to convene, saying that the King can only act on advice from the Cabinet.

The remarks by Attorney-General Idrus Harun was made on the same day that, in an unusual Friday sermon, the religious authorities in Perak state said the royal Malay rulers serve as a check and balance in the governing of the country.

Tan Sri Idrus said in a statement: "In line with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's (King's) power to summon Parliament to meet, based on the Cabinet's advice, the meeting dates for the Lower House and Upper House are also determined by the Cabinet."

He added that a Parliament sitting required a notice of 28 days, in response to political calls that the House must reconvene within two weeks.

The debate on when Parliament should sit has been hotly debated since the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, last week urged Parliament to reconvene "as soon as possible", putting pressure on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to allow the Lower House to sit.

Sultan Abdullah said this following a special meeting of the Malay rulers to discuss Malaysia's political, health and economic crises.

Eight of the nine Malay state rulers and their representatives said in a separate statement that Malaysia's state of emergency should not be extended beyond its Aug 1 expiry. The Kelantan ruler didn't attend the meeting.

Critics say Tan Sri Muhyiddin is delaying a parliamentary sitting for fear that it would prove he no longer has majority support from lawmakers.

Malaysia's Parliament last sat in December, when it passed the 2021 budget, with sittings suspended after a state of emergency was declared in mid-January.

In a sermon during Friday prayers in Perak, congregants were told that "the rulers do not rule the country directly but their role is to ensure that the country's administration is orderly, trustworthy, transparent, and has integrity."

The sermon is unusual in that the authorities usually forbade the use of mosque pulpits to mix religion and political issues.

Perak's constitutional monarch is Sultan Nazrin Shah, one of the rulers who attended the special meeting at the national palace in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, the heads of the Lower and Upper Houses have proposed that a hybrid parliamentary sitting - involving both in-person and online participation - can be held in late August or in the first week of September at the latest, after preparations are made.

Malaysia's Upper House, or the Senate, usually meets to approve legislation passed by Parliament, the Lower House.

Parliament speaker Azhar Harun and Senate president Rais Yatim said a special sitting in August will be needed to debate and approve a hybrid meeting.

"The hybrid Parliament meeting will involve the physical attendance of 26 Lower House representatives to meet the Lower House quorum and 10 senators of the Upper House, while the others will have an option whether to be present either physically or virtually," they said in a joint statement on Friday.

They said that Mr Muhyiddin had been informed, and that "very good cooperation and support" were received.

PM Muhyiddin had earlier suggested that Parliament can sit only in September or October after Covid-19 cases have trended lower as more Malaysians are vaccinated.

Opposition MPs have warned of a constitutional crisis if the government fails to reconvene federal and state legislatures as the Malay rulers had urged following the special meeting.

Several state assemblies are preparing to reconvene without waiting for the federal Parliament to do so.

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