Political crisis deepens as parliament session cut short . . .
In a controversial move over the weekend, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin postponed the special parliamentary session that began on July 26, citing concerns over COVID-19 infections, including some detected in the legislative building itself. This was to be the first sitting of parliament since its suspension after Malaysia declared a state of emergency in January amid its deteriorating COVID-19 situation. On Monday, opposition MPs attempted to enter the parliament building, believing Muhyiddin’s interruption of proceedings a ploy to avoid a no-confidence vote, but riot police blocked their entry. Instead, the MPs gathered at Independence Square, where, in a rare show of unity between factions, key opposition leaders Anwar Ibrahim and Mahathir Mohammad demanded Muhyiddin’s resignation.
King’s rebuke adds to political crisis . . .
Meanwhile, the Malaysian King has strongly censured Muhyiddin’s government for unilaterally nullifying the country’s pandemic emergency ordinances on July 26 – Muhyiddin incorrectly implied that it had done so with the monarch’s approval. Muhyiddin’s announcement caught the MPs and the King by surprise, as the ordinances were supposed to be debated in parliament. Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy has experienced bouts of political crisis since the resignation of former prime minister Mahathir Mohammad last year. Muhyiddin was appointed by the King, but his tenure has been far from secure, especially without validation through elections and dependent on a very uneasy alliance with the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, the ruling coalition’s largest member.
Democracy assailed by politicking and pandemic . . .
While the state of emergency has allowed Muhyiddin to rule by decree, it has failed to curb the worsening COVID-19 situation in Malaysia. The country’s runaway infections and rising death toll since April – totalling over one million cases and 8,000 deaths to date – have fuelled public anger and protests decrying the government’s handling of the pandemic. The row with the King, a popular figure among Malaysians, has further tarnished Muhyiddin’s leadership. Although Muhyiddin might survive in office if the opposition remains fractured, his political fortunes could also take an abrupt downward turn. COVID-19 is a significant impediment to any forthcoming general elections, which may not occur until early 2022.