The Parliament of Malaysia will sit for the first time on Monday, two months after a power grab led to a change in government and the emergence of a cluster of coronavirus cases forced the country into lockdown from which it is only now starting to emerge.
But there will be no government bills presented for scrutiny and no opportunity for the politicians suddenly flung into opposition to test the majority of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin with a vote of no-confidence.
The only item on the agenda is the king’s speech, a roughly one-hour-long address on the government’s plans.
“It is a case of ‘tick a box’ so to speak,” constitutional lawyer Lim Wei Jiet told Al Jazeera, referring to a requirement that the parliament, which last sat in December, cannot be in recess for more than six months. “I think the real intention is to prevent the executive from being scrutinised by the legislature and avoiding its majority being tested.”
Muhyiddin was sworn in as prime minister on March 1 after a power grab within the then-governing Pakatan Harapan coalition triggered the resignation of his predecessor – and party co-founder – Mahathir Mohamad, the collapse of the coalition that had governed Malaysia since May 2018, and a week of political intrigue.
On announcing his decision to name Muhyiddin as prime minister, after meeting each member of Parliament individually, King Abdullah Ahmad Shah said he believed Muhyiddin had the numbers, even as Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan said they did. A parliamentary sitting scheduled for March was postponed.
Speaking to Malaysians on national television at the end of the month, 10 days after the country had gone into a coronavirus lockdown, the man who had been Pakatan’s home minister acknowledged the frustration felt by many voters at the sudden change in administration, and appealed for their support.
“This government may not be the government that you voted for,” Muhyiddin said, urging Malaysians to come together. “I want all of you to know that this government cares for you.”
‘Coalition of convenience’
In contrast to Pakatan Harapan, which included the multiracial but mostly ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party and the multiracial Keadilan Rakyat, Perikatan Nasional is dominated by ethnic Malay parties. While Malays, who are Muslim, make up the majority of Malaysia’s population, about 44 percent of Malaysians are of other ethnicities.
Muhyiddin’s own Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) is split, with 94-year-old Mahathir who has been Malaysia’s prime minister for 25 of the past 39 years remaining the chairman of the party and still backing Pakatan. He is thought to have about five of the party’s members of Parliament on his side, compared with Muhyiddin’s 31.
To hold onto his job, Muhyiddin is reliant on the backing of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which was rejected by voters in the last election amid massive corruption, and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), whose goal is to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state. UMNO has 39 members of Parliament.