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Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during a session of the lower house of parliament on Monday. The king has sharply criticised his government. Photo: Reuters

Malaysia’s PM Muhyiddin defiant after king rebukes government for misleading parliament

  • Sultan Abdullah expressed ‘deep disappointment’ that law minister Takiyuddin Hassan did not seek his assent to revoke the state of emergency he agreed to in January
  • In response, PM Muhyiddin Yassin countered that the monarch was briefed on the government’s plans and was obliged to follow its advice
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Thursday stood his ground after his government was accused by the country’s king of misleading parliament by incorrectly suggesting the monarch had assented to revoking a state of emergency that received the royal green light in January.

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who serves as the country’s constitutional head of state, said the government had in fact not sought his assent before de facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan on Monday declared that various emergency ordinances – set to expire on August 1 – had been nullified a week earlier.

Takiyuddin’s comments enraged opposition lawmakers, who insisted that the constitution required the revocation of the state of emergency to be voted on in parliament, along with the assent of Sultan Abdullah.

Opposition politicians said the government had sought to revoke the emergency through the back door, as a vote in parliament would show that it did not command a parliamentary majority – which in turn could compel Sultan Abdullah to order the formation of a new administration.

In a drama-filled day, Muhyiddin countered with a lengthy statement of his own, in which he said the king had previously been briefed on the government’s view that the matter did not require a parliamentary vote.

“The government is of the view that all actions taken were in line with the law and the Federal Constitution,” the embattled prime minister said, adding that the king was legally obliged to act according to the advice of the cabinet.

The development has raised questions over whether the government will imminently be forced to resign, given the public perception that it had disrespected the country’s widely revered royal institution.

Ismail Sabri, the prime minister’s No 2 and a member of the powerful United Malays National Organisation (Umno) – who is seen as a potential successor if Muhyiddin were to step down – issued a statement saying the government continued to have the backing of a majority of MPs.

Malaysia’s parliament in chaos as PM refuses to allow debate

The country’s 222-seat parliament is sitting this week for the first time since the king granted Muhyiddin emergency powers on January 12 to deal with a spiralling Covid-19 crisis.

The royal statement issued on Thursday said Sultan Abdullah was particularly disappointed with the conduct of Takiyuddin and Attorney General Idrus Harun as they had failed to deliver on their promise to the king that the state of emergency would be debated in the legislature.

Takiyuddin’s comments on Monday were contradictory and misleading, the statement said, adding that the law minister had “failed to respect the principle of the rule of law in the Rukun Negara” – a set of principles on which Malaysia’s form of constitutional monarchy is based.

The law minister “disregarded His Majesty’s functions and powers as the head of state, as enshrined in the federal constitution”, the royal statement said.

Malaysia's Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah. Photo: AFP

“To this, His Majesty expresses deep disappointment over the statement made on July 26 that the government has revoked all emergency ordinances promulgated by His Majesty, although the revocation has not yet been given royal assent.”

The statement released by the Comptroller of the Royal Household is the latest stern rebuke of Muhyiddin from the country’s royals.

Political scientist Wong Chin Huat said the king’s remarks were “direct and strong” with “no face-saving niceties”.

Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia-based political observer, wrote on Twitter that the “perceived disrespect” shown by Takiyuddin towards the Malay royal institution and for misleading parliament “further undermines” the legitimacy of the Muhyiddin government.

Malaysia to reconvene parliament following repeated calls by king

Takiyuddin is the secretary general of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), a hardline Islamist party that Muhyiddin and Umno joined hands with last year to oust the previous ruling alliance through a political coup.

Twice in June, Sultan Abdullah issued strong statements urging the prime minister to convene parliament to discuss the country’s response to the pandemic.

Muhyiddin had earlier swatted away those calls by saying the earliest the legislature could sit was September, when the daily Covid-19 caseload was expected to taper off from the current high levels.

In an immediate response to the royal statement, the opposition bloc’s leader, Anwar Ibrahim, called on Muhyiddin to resign.


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Mahathir Mohamad, the 96-year-old whom Muhyiddin toppled as prime minister through his coup in February, said the entire cabinet needed to take responsibility for Takiyuddin’s actions and stand down.

Others, like Liew Chin Tong – also a key figure in the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance – suggested that Takiyuddin and Attorney General Idrus should resign.

Explainer | What do Malaysia’s latest political twists mean for Muhyiddin?

“The government should at least offer the heads of Takiyuddin and the Attorney General, and apologise to the nation not only for its failure in managing the pandemic but also its failure in upholding the principles of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy,” Liew wrote on Twitter.

Thursday’s developments are the latest twist in Malaysia’s tumultuous politics that observers say could severely damage its economic prospects when the pandemic’s pall lifts.
Muhyiddin, Anwar, Mahathir and the corruption-tainted former prime minister Najib Razak are seen as jockeying for power through horse trading and behind-the-scenes talks, as no single political faction commands majority legislative support.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (right) talks with the country’s king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, in October last year. Photo: AFP

The royal statement was released in the late morning while parliament was in session. Proceedings were then suspended, and the restart was postponed thrice before the session was adjourned until Monday.

Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon, a member of Muhyiddin’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), said the delay was necessary to facilitate tests on all MPs and parliamentary staff after four people in the legislature tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday. Most of the lawmakers attending the five-day sitting have been fully vaccinated.

Amid online speculation that Muhyiddin could be forced to resign by senior Umno figures in his government, local media reported that ministers’ vehicles were seen entering his private residence in the afternoon.

In his late afternoon statement, Deputy Prime Minister Sabri acknowledged that “the political situation in the country today is unstable and could hamper efforts to resolve economic problems and fight the Covid-19 pandemic”.

But he noted that the government still commanded the support of more than 110 MPs, or 50 per cent of the 220 lawmakers in the lower house. “Therefore, I hope the people remain calm in face of the current situation and we pray together that this political crisis will end soon,” Ismail said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Muhyiddin faces quit calls after rebuke by king