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Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin during a March 2020 press conference. Photo: AP

In dramatic U-turn, embattled Malaysian PM Muhyiddin says parliament will convene on July 26

  • The announcement follows rare public pressure from the country’s king for the legislature to sit and discuss Kuala Lumpur’s pandemic-related policies
  • Parliament has been suspended since January, when Muhyiddin obtained royal assent for a national state of emergency to deal with Covid-19
Muhyiddin Yassin, Malaysia’s embattled prime minister, has said the country’s suspended parliament will convene on July 26 – a dramatic retreat from his previous stance that the legislature could only meet in September at the earliest.

In a Monday statement, Muhyiddin said the latest sitting of the bicameral legislature “aims to explain the national recovery plan to the MPs and amend the laws and rules necessary for a hybrid session of parliament”.

The lower house, the Dewan Rakyat, will sit from July 26 to August 2, while the upper house, the Dewan Negara, will sit from August 3-5.

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The U-turn follows the exertion of rare public pressure on the government by Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, for the legislature to sit “as soon as possible” to scrutinise the government’s pandemic-related policies.
The Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara have been suspended since January, when Muhyiddin obtained royal assent for a state of national emergency to deal with the severe Covid-19 situation in the country. New infections have spiralled in recent weeks, with the country’s caseload now standing at 785,039.

Until Monday’s announcement, the government had repeatedly insisted that a sitting of parliament during the emergency was unfeasible. It had swatted away suggestions for a hybrid sitting involving some members participating remotely.


Malaysia goes into total lockdown amid worsening Covid-19 outbreak

Malaysia goes into total lockdown amid worsening Covid-19 outbreak

In response, members of the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition accused the government of using the public health crisis as an excuse to avoid a showdown in parliament.

Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional bloc, riven by infighting for months, had been on the verge of an embarrassing no-confidence vote defeat when Sultan Abdullah gave the green light for the state of emergency.

In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on the prime minister to change his stance, with both Sultan Abdullah as well as the heads of the country’s nine royal households – who form Malaysia’s Conference of Rulers – backing the opposition’s call for an expeditious sitting of parliament.

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Legal experts also echoed this view, warning that the government was risking a breach of the law by not allowing a legislative debate of the emergency proclamation before the measure’s expiry – as is mandated by the constitution.

Kelvin Yii, a Pakatan Harapan lawmaker, said the July sitting needed to be debated or it “would defeat the purpose”.

The member of parliament for the Bandar Kuching constituency in Sarawak noted that the government statement announcing the sitting had only mentioned that lawmakers would be given a “briefing”, without specifying whether they would be allowed to respond.

Malaysia’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (right) and Prime Minister Muhyiddin at the opening ceremony of a parliamentary session in 2020. Photo: AP

“At end of the day, if we are not allowed to debate, scrutinise and keep the government in check for the most pertinent matter right now which is Covid-19, this session is merely cosmetic, and superficial,” Yii wrote on Twitter.

Apart from the debate about parliament, Muhyiddin’s government has been increasingly blanketed by criticism over its performance during the pandemic.

The administration took power from Pakatan Harapan through a political coup last March, just as Covid-19 began taking hold in the Southeast Asian country.

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The latest show of anti-government sentiment was a Twitter campaign calling for users to include the black flag emoji in their usernames.

Tens of thousands of people took part in the movement, which calls for Muhyiddin to resign; parliament to reconvene; and an immediate end to the state of emergency.

Police said they had opened investigations into whether the campaign was inciting sedition, “public mischief” and breaching local rules governing the internet.

Muhyiddin remains in hospital after being admitted last week for a digestive system infection.

The 74-year-old leader was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018, while he was home minister in the Pakatan Harapan government. He was declared free of the disease last June.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: In dramatic U-turn, Muhyiddin agrees to reopen parliament