By Noah Lee and Hadi Azmi
For the third time since February, Malaysia’s king said Tuesday that parliament must reconvene as soon as possible, although the prime minister has shown no sign he will agree to this before September.
The reiteration by the king – his second in two weeks – shows that the constitutional monarch views the legislature’s suspension during a national emergency seriously, especially during a pandemic, analysts told BenarNews.
Parliament was suspended after the king, on the advice of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, imposed an emergency on Jan. 12 that runs until Aug. 1.
King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah believes it is essential that parliament meet soon so lawmakers can debate legislation related to the emergency declaration, the National Palace said through its spokesman, Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin.
“His Majesty is of the view that a parliament sitting should be held as soon as possible in compliance with COVID-19 guidelines and standard operating procedures set by the Malaysian government and parliament,” Fadil said in a statement, after the king met with the speakers of both houses of parliament for about an hour.
“This is to enable the Proclamation of Emergency and Emergency Ordinances that have been issued to be tabled in parliament as provided for in Article 150 (3) of the Federal Constitution.”
The king also expressed the view that all parliamentary committees should continue sessions so there can be checks and balances to ensure governance is transparent and acting with integrity, particularly in public policy, social and financial affairs, and government expenditure, the palace spokesman said.
Many state legislatures set to reopen
Critics and lawmakers – including from the ruling coalition – had criticized parliament being suspended at a time when they said the legislature was needed most. Muhyiddin was using the pretext of containing the pandemic to ensure parliament does not meet, they had said.
They also alleged that Muhyiddin, who heads an unelected government that came to office in March 2020, was attempting to cling to power after they said he had lost the support of his razor-thin parliamentary majority.
Meanwhile, public frustration has risen against the emergency and perceived ham-handed coronavirus lockdowns. A social media campaign with the hashtag #KerajaanGagal, which means “failed government,” began sometime in April and continues to do the rounds on Twitter.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy with the king as head of state. His position is largely ceremonial, as he has to act according to the wishes of the government, but most Malaysians revere the palace as an institution.
When Muhyiddin advised the king to declare an emergency, it was unclear whether he had discussed the decision to suspend parliament – which last met on Dec. 14, 2020 – with the monarch. That question remained unresolved as of Tuesday.
Still, the king has made it known he would like parliament to reconvene – first in February, then on June 16, and, now, on Tuesday.
Soon after the king and states’ rulers aired their views on June 16, at least four states – including from the prime minister’s ruling coalition – announced dates for the reopening of their legislatures.
But the PM said he saw parliament meeting only by September at the earliest, and did not specify a date, merely saying he would act according to the constitution.
Parliament sitting ‘is very critical now’
Critics, including in the opposition, meanwhile, have lambasted Muhyiddin for not heeding the king’s advice. Repeated calls by the king on one issue are unheard of, said Azmi Hassan, a retired academic.
“A third call by the king is unprecedented. It has never happened before that a king had to reiterate his opinion and remind the government thrice over the same issue,” Hassan told BenarNews.
“Why did the king need to make a third call? It is because there is no sign that the … government is making any move to reconvene the parliament.”
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Muhyiddin and his cabinet were “shameless” for ignoring the king’s and rulers’ calls.
“I am certain that the [king] is merely speaking up on behalf of the majority of MPs and the majority of the public,” Anwar said on Facebook.
Muhyiddin will have to face the wrath of the public for ignoring the king’s views, said Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a political analyst and academic at the University of Malaya.
A parliament sitting “is very critical now because there are many issues that need to be discussed in Parliament like the allocation for and the management of COVID-19, the [rebuilding of] the economy … and the need to debate the emergency proclamation and the ordinances approved during that time,” Awang told BenarNews.
“The public would get angrier if the government decides to delay a parliament sitting.”