In Rare Move, Malaysian King Rebukes Govt for Allegedly Misleading Parliament

Ray Sherman, Hadi Azmi and S.Adie Zul
Kuala Lumpur
2021-07-29
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In Rare Move, Malaysian King Rebukes Govt for Allegedly Misleading Parliament Lawmakers from the lower house of parliament are seen standing in protest against the administration after the palace rebuked the government for misleading the legislature, in Kuala Lumpur, July 29, 2012.
[Photo courtesy The Malaysia Information Department/BenarNews]

Malaysia’s king publicly reprimanded the government on Thursday for allegedly misleading parliament, dealing another blow to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is already facing a leadership challenge.

The current king’s first such rebuke, which was about the revocation of emergency laws, caused an uproar in parliament, with lawmakers stridently demanding that the PM resign. Muhyiddin later issued a lengthy statement saying his government had abided by the Constitution.

The Law Minister had said on Monday that the ordinances issued during the emergency had been revoked days earlier, but King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah said he had not consented to ending those laws, according to a statement issued by the palace.

“His Royal Highness is deeply disappointed by the statement made in Parliament on July 26 that the government has cancelled all the emergency ordinances when the revocation is yet to receive His Majesty’s consent,” Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, comptroller of the Royal Household, said in the statement.

“Articles 150(2B) and 150(3) of the Federal Constitution clearly gives the authority for the enactment and revocation of ordinances to the King. …The minister’s remark on July 26 is inaccurate and had created confusion among the members of the Lower House.”

Ahmad Fadil further said that although the king has to follow the cabinet’s advice on matters concerning the country, he is obliged as the head of state to advise or reprimand unconstitutional acts performed by anyone in government.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy with the king as head of state. While his position is largely ceremonial because he must act according to the wishes of the government, most Malaysians revere the palace as an institution. The throne is occupied on a rotating basis among Malaysia’s nine sultans, or royal rulers.

MY-King-PIC.jpg

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (right) talks to King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah after their meeting at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 28, 2020. [Handout Malaysia National Palace via AFP]

As opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim read out the king’s statement in parliament, irate lawmakers began to rise from their seats, calling for Muhyiddin’s resignation.

“Pagoh, tender your resignation,” Democratic Action Party lawmaker Gobind Singh Deo shouted, referring to Muhyiddin by the name of his parliamentary constituency.

“Yes, I agree, resign today,” shouted another lawmaker who could not be identified amid the chaos and din, with lawmakers shouting “betrayal,” treason,” and “traitor.”

The Deputy Speaker adjourned parliament three times consecutively – a stalling tactic, opposition MPs said – and announced around 5:30 p.m. that the session would continue Monday.

The government announced Monday that it would not extend the current emergency beyond the expiration date of Aug. 1. That took lawmakers by surprise because they believed the issue would be discussed in Parliament.

But it was the announcement that day that the government had revoked emergency ordinances on July 21, five days earlier, that caused – and continues to cause – confusion among citizens and lawmakers alike.

Many are wondering whether enforcements under these laws after July 21 are still valid.

Public resentment has been growing against Muhyiddin’s unelected government, which has been blamed for a huge spike in new COVID-19 infections. Confusing lockdown protocols and the decision to keep several business sectors open are the reason, many believe, for the worsening pandemic.

Additionally, the PM’s advice to the king to impose an emergency in January, purportedly to stem the pandemic, has also angered Malaysians. Many say it was a political ploy by Muhyiddin to hold on to power because he may have lost even the slimmest of majorities he has in parliament.

King ‘must act according to the cabinet’s advice’

Several hours after the palace statement, Muhyiddin responded via a communique from the Prime Minister’s Office. He said his government had not done anything wrong and acted according to the law and the constitution.

“[T]he King is aware that His Majesty must accept and act according to the cabinet’s advice as provided in Article 40 of the Federal Constitution,” the statement said.

His office said it had sent the monarch a letter dated July 21 – and sent July 23 – saying the ordinances would be revoked. It further said the PM and the Attorney-General had met with the king at noon on Tuesday to explain the situation.

“The Prime Minister informed the King that in the government’s view, that there is no need for the emergency ordinances to be discussed since the cabinet had already advised the King on the revocation,” the statement said.

On Thursday in parliament, opposition MP Anwar proceeded to file a motion of no-confidence against Muhyiddin after reading out the king’s statement.

“The Lower House today makes a resolution on its loss of confidence in [the] Prime Minister … and [says that he] be impeached from his position as prime minister immediately according to the Federal Constitution,” Anwar said.

He told reporters that Muhyiddin must be impeached for his failure to abide by the rule of law and for stepping on the functions and power of the king as stipulated in the constitution.

The United Malays National Organization, the largest party in the ruling bloc, also called for the PM’s and the law minister’s resignation, saying their actions on the emergency ordinances were “clearly a form of treason” toward the king.

Of course, UMNO had announced on June 8 that it was withdrawing support to the government, but the party’s members in the cabinet threw their weight behind Muhyiddin.

UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Thursday again urged UMNO lawmakers to retract their support for Muhyiddin’s administration, as the party’s Supreme Council meeting on July 7 had decided.

Political analyst Bridget Welsh, of the University of Nottingham Malaysia, said that public calls for Muhyiddin’s resignation were growing.

“Resign or resist? Resignation calls and rumors extend to all those involved in handling of emergency ordinances in Malaysia's constitutional/legitimacy crisis,” Welsh tweeted.

“Key question is IF resignations do happen what comes next?”

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