Malaysian PM postpones Parliament, avoids no-confidence vote

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s embattled prime minister postponed a critical parliamentary session set for Monday, citing COVID-19 infections and allowing him to avoid a no-confidence vote amid growing calls for him to resign.

A circular sent to lawmakers Saturday said the session will be held at a later date, after the Health Ministry deemed Parliament a high-risk venue. Eleven cases were detected Thursday among staff and others.

Malaysia’s political crisis deepened when the king rebuked the government for misleading Parliament on the status of ordinances it issued during the coronavirus state of emergency. The opposition, which has filed a motion of no-confidence against Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, slammed the postponement as an excuse for him to stay in office.

“Many parties feel it’s not because of COVID-19. This political crisis must be resolved immediately. This constitutional crisis must be addressed,” tweeted Ahmad Maslan, a lawmaker in the biggest party in Muhyiddin’s alliance that has backed calls for the premier to quit.

There was no immediate comment from Muhyiddin’s office. This was not the first time Muhyiddin has suspended Parliament due to the virus. Parliament has been shut down for several months just after he took office in March 2020, and since January this year, after the king approved his plan for an emergency to tackle the pandemic.

The state of emergency allowed him to rule by ordinance without legislative approval until Aug. 1, at a time when his razor-thin majority in Parliament is in jeopardy.

Public anger against Muhyiddin has built up as cases jumped eightfold since January. New daily infections breached 10,000 on July 13 for the first time and have stayed there since, despite a virus emergency in January and a lockdown since June 1. Total deaths have risen to nearly 9,000. Nearly 20% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Hundreds of black-clad Malaysian youth earlier Saturday rallied in central Kuala Lumpur to demand Muhyiddin’s resignation and early resumption of regular Parliament sessions. Some carried mock corpses wrapped in white cloth to depict the growing virus death toll.

Parliament reopened Monday for the first time this year after Muhyiddin caved to pressure from the king, but the five-day special sitting was only to brief lawmakers on the pandemic and debates were banned.

King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Abdullah said on Thursday he did not give his consent to annul emergency ordinances but told the government to debate them in Parliament — which may lead to a vote that could test Muhyiddin’s majority. Muhyiddin said that the king has to act on the Cabinet’s advice and insisted his administration didn’t violate the constitution.