By Muzliza Mustafa and S. Adie Zul
Parliamentary proceedings will be the center of attention in Malaysia next week as lawmakers meet for the first time in more than seven months and after the largest party in the ruling bloc withdrew support for the unelected government.
But other than some potential walk-outs, few fireworks are expected because the government controls the agenda and likely won’t allow a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin who appears to have lost majority support among MPs, political analyst Oh Ei Sun said.
“The government of the day has the incumbent advantage to determine the so-called order of business, or the agenda, of the parliamentary sitting,” Oh, with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, told BenarNews.
“[The government] also has the [support of the] speaker who is overtly pro-government and, therefore, would, of course, block all sorts of motions of no-confidence. So it would be very difficult to mount such motion.”
Oh was referring to Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun, who time and again has supported the decision to suspend parliament after the king declared an emergency Jan. 12 on the PM’s advice. Given the speaker’s record of statements, Azhar is unlikely to allow a motion of no-confidence to be presented, Oh said.
Only complicating matters was a comment made last weekend by Deputy Speaker Mohd. Rashid Hasnon who said that the five-day sitting, which opens Monday, may be limited to 80 MPs.
Some saw this as a move to thwart a no-confidence vote; as of late Thursday, no decision had been announced on whether all MPs could attend.
At stake for Muhyiddin is no less than the prime minister’s post.
Muhyiddin has a razor-thin majority in Parliament, going by the last time it was put to a test during budget proceedings in December 2020. But a lot has happened since then.
Earlier this month, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party with the most lawmakers in the ruling coalition, withdrew support for Muhyiddin’s government.
Then on July 14, the cabinet unanimously backed Muhyiddin’s leadership, calling into question UMNO’s unity on the issue of support for the PM, because the cabinet includes UMNO members.
Thus began speculation about what would happen when the lower house meets for five days, starting July 26.
Where lawmakers sit during the parliamentary session could be used to gauge which – and how many – UMNO lawmakers back Muhyiddin and how many don’t, according to Oh.
“This would be something to look forward to in the next parliament session,” he said.
“If, let’s say, enough UMNO MPs excluding the ministers and the deputy ministers sit with the opposition, the opposition then has the visible parliamentary majority. It could be quite a sight to behold.
Other than the optics, the analyst made clear that where MPs are seated cannot be used as justification for forcing Muhyiddin to resign.
Agenda for session
Meanwhile, opposition members are particularly concerned because the agenda for the session makes no mention of debates.
The agenda allocates time to various ministers to give presentations explaining the emergency declaration and the efforts of the government to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Star newspaper quoted Deputy Speaker Mohd Rashid as saying “no debates are allowed during the meeting,” but lawmakers could ask questions of ministers after they make their presentations.
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, who heads a new party, Pejuang, said his party’s lawmakers would not stand for it.
“We have decided to attend [the session], at least at the beginning. If we find that it’s just a briefing, we may decide to go out,” Mahathir told a news conference Wednesday, local media reported.
Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan, headed by Anwar Ibrahim, said the speaker should resign if he didn’t allow debates.
“We cannot accept a parliamentary sitting where MPs are called in only to listen to ceramahs, or ministerial speeches, without full debates,” Pakatan said on Wednesday.
“Full debates should be allowed on the ministerial motions for all issues” as the king stated, including on legislation related to the emergency declaration, the coalition said. Pakatan also said “we don’t intend to bring forward a no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister.”
The emergency, set to expire on Aug. 1, was imposed without parliamentary debate because the legislature was suspended.
More than six months later, it is unclear whether suspending parliament was the king’s decision or Muhyiddin’s, although the monarch had said three times since that lawmakers must reconvene to discuss the pandemic and to ensure checks and balances in the government.
The decision to suspend parliament was criticized by almost all opposition parties and by UMNO, too, which at the time still supported the ruling coalition.
Muhyiddin has been under pressure not only from UMNO, the opposition, and the king but from ordinary Malaysians too.
The reason for the emergency, he had said, was to stem the pandemic, but a huge wave of new infections has made people question the intent behind the emergency.
In addition, many blame the Muhyiddin administration for its alleged mishandling of the pandemic. Public frustration has risen against the emergency and perceived ham-handed coronavirus lockdowns.
On Wednesday, Malaysia reported a record 13,034 new COVID-19 infections, taking the total caseload to close to 1 million. With 134 deaths on the same day, pandemic fatalities rose to 7,574.
#KerajaanGagal, or “failed government,” is a social media campaign that has been among Malaysia’ top Twitter trends since April.
“The government really are having a blast during COVID times. Declaring emergency to bend the rules for them, suspending parliament to operate and act without accountability with no care in the world knowing the people can’t say or do anything about it. #KerajaanGagal,” said one tweet in May.