By S. Adie Zul and Hadi Azmi
More than 100 Malaysian opposition lawmakers gathered at Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur on Monday to intensify calls for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s resignation and protest his unelected government’s decision to postpone the final day of a special parliamentary session.
The postponement was a ploy to prevent lawmakers from raising a no-confidence motion and discussing the king’s reprimand of the government last week, opposition MPs said.
At the weekend, the health director-general announced the postponement after 11 staff in the parliament building had tested positive for COVID-19. The last day of the session had been scheduled for Monday, but it would be postponed for two weeks retroactive to July 29, officials said.
Monday’s protest reunited the unlikely duo of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, his longtime rival and former deputy who leads the opposition in parliament.
“The postponement of the Parliament sitting is uncalled for,” Anwar told the media and others gathered at the site of the protest.
Mahathir said Muhyiddin would do anything to cling to the narrowest of parliamentary majorities.
“This prime minister has no shame at all,” the 96-year-old leader of the Pejuang party, who served as prime minister during two stints, the most recent of which ended when he resigned in February 2020, before the king appointed Muhyiddin as the next PM.
“Not only was he appointed through the back door. When people showed him the door, still he refused to leave.”
In the run-up to the 2018 general election, Mahathir and Anwar – who was imprisoned at the time for a sodomy conviction – agreed to form a political alliance to lead the Pakatan Harapan coalition to victory in the polls. Mahathir promised to transfer power to Anwar within two years’ time, but infighting in the bloc’s ranks caused Mahathir’s government to collapse.
On Monday, opposition MPs and leaders chanted “power to the people,” “Muhyiddin, resign,” and “long live the King” as they walked from the historic square toward the parliament building, in a bid to enter it. Police prevented them from going near the building.
On Thursday, the last day that parliament was in session, lawmakers from the opposition as well as ruling coalition lawmakers demanded Muhyiddin’s resignation after the king reprimanded his government in a public statement. In it, the king criticized the government for allegedly misleading lawmakers about the status of ordinances issued during a national emergency, which ended Aug. 1.
On July 26, the law minister announced that the ordinances had been revoked days earlier, but the king said he had not signed off on them – nor had they been discussed in parliament like he had decreed.
In response to the king’s reprimand, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a lengthy statement saying the government had done nothing wrong and the king “must accept and act according to the cabinet’s advice.”
On Thursday, Anwar filed a no-confidence motion, which also called for Muhyiddin to be impeached for his alleged failure to abide by the rule of law and for stepping on the functions and power of the king as stipulated in the constitution.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Malaysians took to the streets on Saturday to demand Muhyiddin’s resignation over his government’s perceived failure to contain the pandemic. Some 400 people – mostly young protesters – defied a lockdown and carried effigies of dead bodies as they protest against COVID-19 deaths.
Public resentment has been growing against Muhyiddin’s unelected government, which has been blamed for a huge spike in new COVID-19 infections. Confusing lockdown protocols and the decision to keep several business sectors open are the reason, many believe, for the worsening pandemic.
Additionally, the PM’s advice to the king to impose the emergency in January – purportedly to contain the pandemic – has also angered Malaysians. Many say it was a ruse by Muhyiddin to retain power.
COVID-19 cases in Malaysia have risen almost eight-fold since the emergency was imposed Jan. 12. The country is now in the throes of a huge surge, having surpassed 1 million cases earlier this month. On Monday, it reported a record 219 virus-related deaths.
Political analysts see the current crisis playing out in two ways.
“Muhyiddin can hang on to power as long as he can avoid a vote of no confidence but as soon as the Speaker stop protecting him in parliament sitting, he will be in big trouble,” James Chin, a professor at the University of Tasmania Asia Institute, told BenarNews.
He was referring to how the government retained the power to set the agenda for the sessions when it decided to hold the special five-day parliamentary session. Consequently, the speaker said, no votes or debate would be allowed.
In Malaysia, the speaker is not a lawmaker and is appointed by the PM. Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun has, time and again, supported the PM’s various controversial decisions.
Andrew Khoo, chair of the Constitutional Committee at the Malaysian Bar Council, said the king could use his power to demand Muhyiddin’s resignation to resign if he thinks the PM has lost majority support.
“[T]here is precedent for this from Australia, and also the states of Perak and Sabah,” he told BenarNews, referring to the Westminster system of democracy.