Don't create another political crisis, Malaysian King tells MPs

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (bottom right) and other MPs at yesterday's parliamentary session in Kuala Lumpur. Only the King's speech was scheduled for the sitting, leaving no chance for the MPs to discuss the confidence vote against Ta
Sultan Abdullah Ri'AyatuddinPHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, EPA-EFE
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (bottom right) and other MPs at yesterday's parliamentary session in Kuala Lumpur. Only the King's speech was scheduled for the sitting, leaving no chance for the MPs to discuss the confidence vote against Ta
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (bottom right) and other MPs at yesterday's parliamentary session in Kuala Lumpur. Only the King's speech was scheduled for the sitting, leaving no chance for the MPs to discuss the confidence vote against Tan Sri Muhyiddin or the Covid-19 pandemic.

He urges national unity in Parliament address, saying the people face hardship and uncertainty due to pandemic

Malaysia's King called for national unity and urged MPs not to create another political crisis, as Parliament sat yesterday for the first time since Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was installed in power with an alliance that critics say does not command a sufficient majority to govern.

"Do not drag this country again into another political crisis at a time when the people are facing hardship and an uncertain future as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic," Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin said in his opening address in Parliament. "It is also for this reason that my government has decided to set the Parliament sitting for one day, with my speech as the only agenda," he added.

Former premier Mahathir Mohamad's request for a motion of no-confidence against Tan Sri Muhyiddin has been accepted by the Speaker but only the King's speech was scheduled for the sitting yesterday, leaving no chance for MPs to discuss the confidence vote or the Covid-19 pandemic.

The parliamentary session was initially scheduled to run for 15 days.

The opposition has criticised the government's decision to disallow debates during the one-day sitting, alleging that Mr Muhyiddin's alliance, Perikatan Nasional (PN), was not confident that it would be able to secure a majority in the 222-seat Parliament.

The government insisted the move was aimed at curbing the transmission of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

As of yesterday, PN has 113 seats while the opposition has 108. There is one independent MP. At least 112 MPs are required for a simple majority in Parliament.

The King, in his address, also explained his decision to appoint Mr Muhyiddin as prime minister following Tun Dr Mahathir's shock resignation in February.

"The political landscape was shaken by the prime minister's resignation... I asked him not to resign but he was firm with his decision.

"I was sad but I had to respect his decision. So I was responsible for appointing a new PM," said Sultan Abdullah.

"The political crisis could not be allowed to continue without an end. After a process which was in line with the Constitution, I found that Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin commanded the majority among members of the Dewan Rakyat," he said. The Dewan Rakyat refers to the Lower House of Parliament.

CHANGE IN POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

The political landscape was shaken by the prime minister's resignation. I told him not to resign but he was firm with his decision. I was sad but I had to respect his decision. So I was responsible for appointing a new PM.

SULTAN ABDULLAH RI'AYATUDDIN, Malaysia's King, speaking in Parliament yesterday on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's resignation as prime minister in February.

Mr Muhyiddin was sworn in as Prime Minister on March 1, after he led more than 40 MPs into leaving the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition in February.

PH, then led by Dr Mahathir, lost its majority in Parliament as a result, just 21 months after it won the May 2018 general election and ended Umno's six-decade rule.

"We cannot accept the reason that because of the pandemic, we are only allowed to sit for two hours," Dr Mahathir told a news conference after the shortest parliamentary sitting in Malaysian history.

He said that if people were allowed to shop and eat out under movement curbs in place to contain the pandemic, then MPs should be allowed to sit and debate.

All MPs, senators, Parliament staff and media personnel attending yesterday's session were required to be tested for Covid-19.

The King, MPs and Parliament staff wore masks, but the monarch removed his to deliver his address.

MPs had to practise social distancing and ensure one empty seat between one another, leading some to sit in the public gallery.

Yesterday's session was originally scheduled to run from March 9 to April 16, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The next session is scheduled for July 13 to Aug 27.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2020, with the headline 'Don't create another political crisis, Malaysian King tells MPs'. Print Edition | Subscribe