Malaysia's King wants Parliament to sit before state of emergency expires on Aug 1

The issue of exactly when Parliament should meet for the first time since December has been the subject of heated debate.
The issue of exactly when Parliament should meet for the first time since December has been the subject of heated debate.PHOTO: MALAYSIA'S DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION/AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s King wants Parliament to reconvene before the state of emergency expires on Aug 1, despite the government committing to a sitting by October.

In a joint statement on Wednesday (June 30), the chairs of both Houses in the federal legislature said Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah had “decreed his view” during an audience on Tuesday, which was also attended by their deputies. 

“(We) stated our commitment and the full readiness of Parliament to meet as decreed by His Majesty,” said Lower House Speaker Azhar Harun and Senate president Rais Yatim. 

They added that they had made this known to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and suggested to him that “a special sitting be held before Aug 1”.

It is unlikely that Tan Sri Muhyiddin will respond quickly to the latest and most direct missive from the palace, as he was hospitalised on Wednesday after suffering from diarrhoea overnight.

The issue of exactly when Parliament should meet for the first time since December has been the subject of heated debate in the fortnight since the King and eight other state rulers said that the legislature should assemble as soon as possible.

Sultan Abdullah and the other rulers had convened a special meeting on June 16. Prior to that, the King had spent a week in a series of audiences with leaders of major political parties, heads of institutions and experts on the pandemic following the deadliest weeks of Malaysia’s ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

The royal statements came just a day after Mr Muhyiddin unveiled a National Recovery Plan, which outlined a September or October target for a parliamentary session to be held when Malaysia’s worst Covid-19 wave eases and lockdown restrictions are loosened.

Although the law states that it is up to the embattled Premier to decide when to bring the House into session, the royal opinions are weighing on Mr Muhyiddin, whose grip on a parliamentary majority has been in doubt since a spate of defections in January.

It was immediately after two Umno lawmakers withdrew support for his Perikatan Nasional government that the state of emergency was imposed on Jan 11. It suspends the need for Parliament to sit within six months of its last meeting in December.

Cabinet ministers have insisted that the government’s timeline meets the royal criteria of “as soon as possible”, while critics and the opposition disagree. 

Heaping pressure on Mr Muhyiddin, main opposition pact Pakatan Harapan has begun the process of convening the assemblies of the three states it governs - Selangor, Penang and Negeri Sembilan. Pahang, ruled by the King himself, will resume in August.

Pahang’s state government is led by Umno, Mr Muhyiddin’s partner in the federal administration, which has been pushing for fresh polls to be held as soon as the pandemic is under control.