Malaysia says emergency to end as parliament sits after COVID-19 shutdown

 Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin
In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus speaks at the parliamentary session at parliament house in Kuala Lumpur, Monday, July 26, 2021. Malaysia’s government said it will not extend a coronavirus emergency beyond August 1 as Parliament reopened Monday after a seven-month suspension amid a worsening pandemic. Image Credit: AP

Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia’s government will not extend a controversial coronavirus state of emergency beyond August 1, a minister said Monday, as parliament convened after a months-long suspension that sparked widespread anger.

The king in January declared the country’s first nationwide state of emergency in more than half a century to fight Covid-19, following the advice of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

It allowed the government to rule by decree and suspend parliament, prompting critics to accuse Muhyiddin of using the crisis to avoid a no-confidence vote and shore up his weak coalition.

Despite the emergency and a nationwide lockdown, the outbreak only worsened, fuelled by the highly infectious Delta variant. Malaysia’s caseload breached the one million mark at the weekend, and there have been around 8,000 deaths.

Facing mounting public anger and pressure from the king, Muhyiddin agreed to reconvene the legislature for a five-day sitting before the state of emergency officially ends next month.

However, the opposition has slammed the short session as a sham that will not truly test the embattled premier’s support.

As lawmakers gathered in the 222-seat lower house Monday wearing masks and separated by transparent screens, Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan announced the government would not request an extension of the state of emergency.

Muhyiddin also defended his handling of the pandemic in an address to the legislature, saying he understood “the public’s anxiety amid the spike in COVID cases”.

“The government is not sitting back and watching the public suffer – (we are) acting to save lives.”

Other ministers are due to brief MPs on matters related to the pandemic.

But opposition lawmakers expressed anger at not being able to debate or vote on anything during the session, pointing out the king himself had called for important issues to be scrutinised.

“The prime minister has acted as a traitor for not adhering to the wishes of the king,” opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the legislature.

Muhyiddin, who seized power in March last year without an election after the collapse of a reformist government, has seen his administration riven by infighting.

The biggest party backing him, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), announced it was withdrawing support for his coalition earlier this month.

But UMNO itself is split – some of its MPs still back Muhyiddin – and his position seems secure in the short term.