Heated debate in Malaysia on when Parliament should reconvene

In a photo taken on Nov 18, 2020, Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin (left) meets with King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah.
In a photo taken on Nov 18, 2020, Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin (left) meets with King Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah.PHOTO: ISTANA NEGARA, MALAYSIA

KUALA LUMPUR - A statement on Wednesday (June 16) by Malaysia's King calling for Parliament to be reconvened "as soon as possible" has provoked heated debate in the country over when this should happen.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has been criticised for suggesting on Tuesday (June 15) that Parliament can sit only in September or October.

This was followed by a statement from his office on Thursday that said it "takes note of the view decreed by His Majesty".

It added that the government would be taking follow-up action based on the Constitution and nation's laws, but did not elaborate further.

Opposition members of Parliament have warned of a constitutional crisis if the government fails to reconvene federal and state legislatures as the Malay rulers had urged following a special meeting at Istana Negara to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic.

In what appeared to be a nudge to the government, the palace on Friday uploaded a Facebook post that highlighted in bold the King's view that "Parliament should convene as soon as possible".

The post was then deleted, but reposted a few hours later without the bold type.

Parliament must reconvene on Aug 2 at the very latest, the day after the state of emergency is scheduled to be lifted, said opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat lawmaker Fahmi Fadzil.

He said that it had been six months and one day since MPs met at the last parliamentary sitting on Dec 17 last year, putting the government at risk of breaching the Federal Constitution if the emergency was lifted and Parliament not called into session.

He cited Article 55(1) of the Federal Constitution, which states: "The Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) shall from time to time summon Parliament and shall not allow six months to elapse between the last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its meeting in the next session."

"Therefore, to avoid a constitutional crisis, Parliament must meet no later than Aug 2, 2021. Not September or October," Mr Fahmi said on Friday. The state of emergency is due to end on Aug 1.

Veteran lawmaker Lim Kit Siang, from the opposition Democratic Action Party, has also warned of a constitutional crisis if the government fails to heed the rulers' advice to reopen federal and state legislatures.

"Malaysians do not want any constitutional crisis in any form but a single-minded focus by every Malaysian, whether in the executive or the legislature, to win the war against the Covid-19 pandemic - and this must remain the nation's single-minded focus, whether it takes one or two years," he said in a statement.

Mr Lim said the Cabinet should have held an emergency session to act on the rulers' decisions and called for a parliamentary meeting on Monday.

Some constitutional experts also believe Parliament should sit before the end of the state of emergency or within 30 days from the King's decree.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia constitutional expert Faridah Jalil said the 30-day window was reasonable for the government to prepare what was required to enable Parliament to reconvene, in line with the phrase "as soon as possible".

The professor said that lawmakers had been vaccinated while parliamentary officers could also do so immediately.

There were no major issues in terms of seating arrangements and physical distancing in Parliament, she added.

"If the government acts quickly and efficiently, the reasonable time frame for Parliament to reconvene is within 30 days from the King's decree," she was quoted as saying in the Malay-language Berita Harian daily.