Malaysian govt says it will not extend Covid-19 emergency after Aug 1, as Parliament meets

Malaysia has been in a state of emergency since January.
Malaysia has been in a state of emergency since January.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's state of emergency will not be extended after it expires on Aug 1, the government said on Monday (July 26) as opposition MPs flayed the Muhyiddin administration for refusing to allow Parliament to debate the measure that has been in effect for seven months.

Parliament has been effectively suspended since a state of emergency was declared in January with the government saying it was necessary to deal with surging Covid-19 infections in the country. But the pandemic has only worsened since then.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, whose parliamentary majority is in doubt,  agreed to convene the House  after pressure from the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah. 

But the five-day session, which began on Monday, will only see MPs being briefed on the government’s National Recovery Plan from the pandemic without any votes taken on the proposal.

Since April, daily Covid-19 infections and deaths have repeatedly reached new highs in the country.

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim on Monday accused the Prime Minister of “treason”, insisting that the King had asked for the convening of a normal parliamentary sitting to allow for the emergency declaration - as well as the ordinances gazetted since it was proclaimed on Jan 11 - to be voted on.

“I do not want the Speaker to be dragged into this treachery,” he said.

Speaker Azhar Harun responded by saying that parliamentary standing orders explicitly gave the Prime Minister powers to call and set the agenda for special sittings.

But, after the opposition continued to heckle him, the Speaker declared: “I disagree with everything that the honourable members have said”.

Last month, a palace statement said that the the King had "expressed the view that Parliament must meet as soon as possible".

"This is to ensure emergency ordinances and the National Recovery Plan can be debated by MPs," the Palace said on June 16, after a week-long series of meetings between the King, who is the the Sultan of Pahang, and leaders of major political parties, experts on the pandemic and the eight other state rulers.

But while the ordinances have been tabled, they will not be discussed during the special sitting.

It is also unclear if the state of emergency will be debated when Parliament reconvenes for a normal sitting on Sept 6, as de facto Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan told the House that the government would not seek its extension and that all ordinances gazetted had been revoked as of last Wednesday. Checks on the federal Gazette, though, show no sign of their withdrawal.

The Kota Bharu MP also pointed out that, according to the Premier’s notice to the Speaker, “the King has consented to the special sitting”.

This raised even more protests from those in the opposition who insisted that such a withdrawal of the ordinances was improper as a motion needed to be brought to Parliament.

The sudden announcement also threw into question whether the laws remain in force after July 21. For instance, police had arrested a Twitter user on Friday under a “fake news” ordinance after he questioned the government’s RM70 million vaccination appointments management system. 

Earlier, former premier Mahathir Mohamad accused his successor of ignoring the King’s decree by refusing to allow a debate while “each day, each hour, problems mount” in Malaysia’s Covid-19 crisis.

“We already know the government’s plan, and we know it has failed. The burden of Covid-19 was the reason for the emergency, yet it was not tabled for debate on how to overcome (the pandemic),” he said.

He later told reporters that he would not join the government’s National Recovery Council despite opposition leaders being invited, claiming that “it is obvious that this is a political body” instead of a panel of experts on the pandemic.