07/26/2021, 13.57
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Malaysian king reopens parliament to address COVID-19 crisis

by Steve Suwannarat

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin tried to use special powers to deal with the pandemic until September. The sovereign’s decision follows a political crisis in the ruling coalition government caused by UMNO’s threat to withdraw and fears among civil society groups that the government might crack down on dissent.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Malaysia’s parliament reopened today as the pandemic emergency rages on, while the ruling coalition government is embroiled in its own political crisis. The new session, with a different calendar for the parliament’s two houses, will last until 6 August.

Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin pushed for the reopening, in contrast to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

The latter wanted parliament to remain closed until the number of coronavirus cases had dropped below 2,000 a day and the authorities had fully vaccinated 40 per cent of the population. At the current rate of infection and vaccination, that would have been September or October.

The five-day parliamentary session, under clear emergency conditions, will have to look at the country’s prospects and how the government is dealing with the pandemic crisis.

At present, Malaysia has one the highest rate of infection in Asia, with about 14,000 cases per day after peaking at 15,000 last week-end, for a total in excess of one million cases as of yesterday.

About 8,000 people have died so far, double that of Thailand, despite Malaysia having half the population.

Critics have especially slammed the emergency protocols imposed on the population, which will end on 1 August.

With full powers and parliament suspended, the prime minister ruled by decrees without the approval of lawmakers. This situation has raised doubts about the legality of the situation.

Six successive restrictive orders limiting travel and citizens’ rights have failed to produce positive results, given that the number of cases have more than tripled since the first emergency order was issued on 12 January.

Meanwhile, the ruling coalition government is in turmoil after the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) threatened to withdraw its support.

The party, which has dominated the country’s political life since 1957, finds itself losing votes.

With the opposition putting pressure, several observers would like to see the formation of a new coalition, one based on shared plans and goals, without repressive tendencies towards civil society groups and political opponents.

Failing this, the government might find itself in the sovereign's crosshairs in September, unable to deal with the 2022 budget debate.

The two contingencies would undermine the government and generate even more uncertainty in Malaysia.

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