By Hadi Azmi
Malaysia’s first parliamentary sitting since a change in government this year will be restricted to a speech by the king, the House speaker announced Wednesday, indicating that a potential no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin would not happen then.
House Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md. Yusoff said there would be no further agenda after the king’s address during the one-day sitting of parliament on May 18, citing instructions from Muhyiddin, who heads an unelected government that came to power in early March.
“I have received a notice signed by the [prime minister], informing that due to the ongoing COVID-19 virus outbreak in the country that is yet to be fully contained, the government has decided that [next Monday’s] parliamentary meeting … is amended as such,” Mohamad Ariff said.
Mahathir Mohamad, Muhyiddin’s predecessor as PM, whose proposal for a confidence vote against Muhyiddin was approved by Mohamad Ariff last Friday, denounced what he described as an effort to block his motion from being heard.
“I have been waiting for a chance to support my motion that Muhyiddin does not have the confidence of the majority, and when that time comes I plan to explain why I brought the motion,” Mahathir said in a video recorded from his office in the administrative capital Putrajaya.
“It seems to me that there is an effort to block me from speaking even as a member of parliament,” he said.
Mahathir also questioned the legality of the session, saying that reconvening legislators without allowing them to debate about the king’s speech would be against parliamentary procedure.
“Now we cannot debate on that one day, but not only my motion but even the government’s own motion will not be brought forth,” Mahathir said. “What meeting is this, just to listen to the government’s own speech through the king?”
Muhyiddin emerged as prime minister after King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah appointed him to the post on Feb. 29, a week after the nation was thrown into a political turmoil following Mahathir’s sudden resignation.
The monarch said he believed Muhyiddin, a former interior minister in Mahathir’s cabinet, had the support of a majority of the legislators.
The parliament was originally scheduled to meet on March 9, but days after he took his oath, Muhyiddin instructed Mohamad Ariff to set the start of the session instead on May 18. The next parliamentary sitting is scheduled on July 13 for 25 days.
Last Saturday, Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, the newly named leader of the opposition, issued a statement saying they were renewing their efforts to bring their Pakatan Harapan coalition back to power and “return the people’s mandate to the rightful owners.”
The next day, Muhyiddin announced that he was extending the government’s COVID-19 restrictions on people’s movements by one month until June 9, after they were set to expire on May 12.
On May 4, his government eased some of the restrictions by allowing most businesses to reopen under strict conditions for guarding against the spread of the virus.
Health authorities reported 37 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the nation’s cumulative tally to 6,779. Officials also confirmed two new fatalities, raising the death toll to 111.
Bank Negara: Economy expected to contract
Meanwhile, the nation’s economy will likely shrink in this year’s second quarter because pandemic-related curbs on businesses and movements brought about increased unemployment and declines in economic activity, the Malaysian central bank said Wednesday.
“The Malaysian economy is expected to contract in the second quarter,” Bank Negara Malaysia said in a statement, as it reported that the gross domestic product (GDP) grew 0.7 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier. The quarterly contraction would be the worst shrinkage in the second quarter since 2009, economists said.
Similar to other regional economies, Malaysia in mid-March imposed curbs on movement and businesses to stem the pandemic. The restrictions led to sharp drops in demands in its commodities, including palm oil, the bank said.
Malaysia, Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, also recorded higher unemployment, increasing to 3.5 percent in the first quarter compared with the previous quarter, according to data from the Department of Statistics.
“The global and Malaysian economic outlook for 2020 will be significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as strict measures to contain the spread of the pandemic, will weigh considerably on both external demand and domestic growth,” the central bank said.