Muhyiddin under more pressure to reconvene Parliament

Malaysian PM seen running out of excuses as several state assemblies make plans to meet

The Malaysian Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia's Parliament has not sat this year, largely because of a state of emergency declared in mid-January and set to expire on Aug 1. The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, a
The Malaysian Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia's Parliament has not sat this year, largely because of a state of emergency declared in mid-January and set to expire on Aug 1. The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, and the other state monarchs collectively urged, in a statement last week, that the country's legislative bodies reopen "soon", although a timeline was not specified.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Several state legislative bodies in Malaysia are planning to convene for the first time this year, increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's administration to reconvene Parliament.

Analysts say the government is running out of reasons to delay reopening the country's highest legislative body.

Parliament has not sat this year, largely because of a state of emergency declared in mid-January and set to expire on Aug 1. The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, and the other state monarchs collectively urged, in a statement last week, that the legislative bodies reopen "soon", although a timeline was not specified.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin, in an address last week, said Parliament might sit only in September or October, when Malaysia is set to enter the third phase of its Covid-19 exit plan, which will reopen much of the country's economy. He later announced the formation of a bipartisan committee to look into the process of Parliament's reopening.

However, nine of Malaysia's 13 states, including several led by Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional coalition, have made plans for their state assemblies to meet. Pahang and Perlis have scheduled sitting dates in mid-August, while Melaka is due to sit by mid-July.

The other states are in the process of getting approval from their respective monarchs and governors for an assembly sitting.

"The current administration has run out of excuses not to reconvene Parliament," BowerGroup Asia director Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani told The Straits Times. He said that using Covid-19 as a reason to delay Parliament does not hold water as federal lawmakers have been vaccinated and have been travelling across state borders.

"Delaying (the reopening) further will only weaken his government and authority," Mr Asrul Hadi said.

A Universiti Utara Malaysia professor and political analyst, Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani, told ST that Mr Muhyiddin cannot delay Parliament's reopening for much longer once the state assemblies start sitting.

"I think September is still okay. The state assemblies can sit first and Parliament should sit not too long after that. But the longer it goes on, it will create pressure for not adhering to the Council of Rulers (monarchs) opinion," Dr Mohd Azizuddin said.

Professor James Chin, director of the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute said there is "no reason" why Parliament could not reconvene. "The opening of Parliament is really a political issue, it is not a health issue. I think the fear here is that the whole government is under scrutiny because they have done a lot of things that they cannot explain," he told ST.

The emergency proclamation allowed Mr Muhyiddin's administration the power to greenlight additional spending without going through Parliament. Much of Malaysia's Covid-19 policies this year, including its four-phase exit-plan and vaccine deals, have not been discussed in Parliament.

Prof Chin said Mr Muhyiddin might reconvene Parliament if the pressure to do so "gets overwhelming" over the next month.

Mr Asrul Hadi, meanwhile, said that reconvening Parliament could exacerbate the divide within Mr Muhyiddin's administration, after perceived policy clashes among some of the government's top leaders in formulating Covid-19 policies.

Following the implementation of the total lockdown in June, Senior Minister for Security Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is from Umno and heads the government's non-health Covid-19 response, said that any queries regarding operating approvals granted to several economic sectors should be directed to the International Trade and Industries Ministry led by Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, a member of Mr Muhyiddin's Bersatu.

A last-minute policy change stating that all operating approvals should come from Mr Mohamed Azmin's ministry caused confusion for some firms, while Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri retrospectively ordered the shutdown of a brewery that had been granted operating approval.

Mr Muhyiddin holds a razor-thin single-digit majority in Parliament, which last sat in December 2020, when his administration won parliamentary approval for the 2021 federal budget by a three-vote margin.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2021, with the headline 'Muhyiddin under more pressure to reconvene Parliament'. Subscribe