KUALA LUMPUR, June 20 — Malaysians have lost the opportunity for almost half a year now to scrutinise government policies and decisions in Parliament through their elected representatives, while lawmaking and pressing legal reforms have also come to a standstill with Parliament’s suspension during the nationwide Emergency.
The respective states too face the same fate, as state legislative assemblies are similarly suspended during the Emergency.
The Emergency, which was to be in effect from January 11, was announced on January 12. It is scheduled to end on August 1, if it is not lifted earlier or extended.
The suspension of Parliament during the Emergency was met with strong opposition from the very beginning, with multiple lawsuits filed as early as in January itself to challenge the suspension. These lawsuits are at varying stages in court, with some pending appeals.
What the Rulers said about Parliament
On February 24, Istana Negara issued a statement conveying the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s view that Parliament “can” sit while the Emergency is in force. As to when, it will be on a date that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong thinks is suitable, based on the advice of the prime minister.
On June 16, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong expressed the view that reconvening of Parliament “has to be held as soon as possible” to enable MPs to debate on Emergency ordinances and the national recovery plan, while stressing the importance of Parliament’s role for elected representatives to discuss Covid-19 matters and government allocations to help the public and to restore the nation’s economy.
On that same day, the Conference of Rulers released a statement that Malaysia does not need to remain under Emergency rule after August 1. The Malay Rulers also supported the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s decree for Parliament to immediately convene.
The Conference of Rulers added that state legislative assemblies should meet as quickly as possible.
How the federal government responded
That same June 16 night, minister in charge of law and Parliament Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan remarked that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong did not specify a particular date when saying Parliament should be held as soon as possible.
Takiyuddin said that the prime minister could for example announce that Parliament will reopen in September, while also saying that the hybrid Parliament concept would have to be used as an alternative to a fully physical Parliament setting when it reconvenes.
After about five months since the Emergency started, Takiyuddin had on June 4 abruptly announced that the government is studying the concept of a hybrid Parliament and the mechanisms for it, and had said more detailed studies would be undertaken
immediately before it is raised in the nearest time to Cabinet for its consideration and approval. A special committee was formed to carry out the study.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had on June 15 said Parliament could reopen in September or October under the third phase of the government’s new national recovery plan, which was announced on that day.
Unlike states that can possibly proceed to reconvene their legislative assemblies ahead of Parliament reconvening, the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan do not have their own legislative assemblies or lawmaking bodies. This would put the residents there at a disadvantage as their 11 MPs in Kuala Lumpur, the Putrajaya MP and Labuan MP would be unable to carry out roles such as voicing their plight or asking the government for responses or data specific to their constituencies.
As for how state governments responded, here is a list of what we know so far, based on news reports and official statements:
What about the states?
On June 17, the PH-ruled Penang state government said it would apply for approval from the Yang di-Pertuan Agong through the Penang governor for the state legislative assembly to convene “immediately”.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said both the Dewan Rakyat and state legislative assembly are important platforms for elected lawmakers to debate on issues such as preventing and managing the Covid-19 pandemic and financial allocations for economic recovery and to assist the public, noting that Emergency ordinances and the national Covid-19 recovery plan also affected the Penang state administration.
On June 18, Chow met with the Penang governor, with the Penang state legal advisor also in attendance to present the state government’s position. Chow said the Penang governor had consented to bring the request to reconvene the Penang state assembly to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Status: To seek approval to reconvene “segera” or “immediately”.
On June 17, Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad revealed that he had — on the Johor Sultan’s advice — held a special virtual meeting with Johor MPs and state assemblymen to discuss steps that can be taken to face the Covid-19 pandemic.
Noting that the Emergency would end in August, he said the Johor state government would identify a suitable date for the Johor state assembly to be held immediately, further emphasising the Johor state government was ready for the state assembly to be held immediately.
Status: Identifying date to enable state assembly to reconvene “segera” or “immediately”.
On June 17, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari said he would hold a discussion with the Selangor Speaker, before presenting matters from the discussion to the Selangor Sultan to seek consent to convene the Selangor state legislative assembly as quickly as possible.
On June 18, Selangor Speaker Ng Suee Lim was reported saying that the proposed date for the Selangor state legislative assembly to meet would be presented to the Selangor Sultan soon.
If the Selangor Sultan grants consent for Selangor’s proposal to convene the state legislative assembly during the Emergency, Ng said the Selangor mentri besar will then send a letter to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to seek consent to hold a special state assembly session.
Status: Plans to reconvene underway.
On June 18, Sabah Speaker Datuk Kadzim Yahya was reported saying that the state legislative assembly can reconvene any time and even before Emergency’s scheduled end date of August 1, provided that the state government is agreeable.
Kadzim said the state legislative assembly is ready to be held whenever the state government advises so, and that his office would need around two weeks’ notice to prepare for a sitting due to documentation work and the need to inform state assemblymen and other officials.
Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor, who had held a discussion with Kadzim on June 17, similarly said on June 18 that the state government will seek the National Security Council’s advice and is ready to reconvene the Sabah state legislative assembly at a suitable time under strict operating procedures.
Status: Sabah is ready to reconvene.
5. Negri Sembilan
On June 18, Pakatan Harapan-ruled Negri Sembilan’s Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Aminuddin Harun said the state legislative assembly had last met for five days from November 27 to December 3, and it was required legally to meet not more than six months later or on June 2 but that this legal requirement was suspended during the Emergency.
Aminuddin said the Negri Sembilan state government was ready to have the state legislative assembly reconvene as soon as possible subject to the assent of the Negri Sembilan state ruler and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and that he had discussed the matter on June 17 with the Negri Sembilan speaker and that the findings of the discussion would be presented to the Negri Sembilan state ruler to seek assent for the legislative assembly to be held as soon as possible.
Aminuddin said the proposed date for the legislative assembly to reconvene to be raised to the Negri Sembilan state ruler would also take into account rules for at least 28 days’ notice to state assembly members, but noted that notice can be given as soon as possible if urgent and necessary and subject to the state ruler’s consent. The dates and period for the state legislative assembly would also take into account the opening ceremony day and again be subject to the state ruler’s consent.
Status: In the process of seeking approval for the state legislative assembly to be held as soon as possible.
On June 18, Perlis Speaker Datuk Hamdan Bahari confirmed that the Perlis state legislative assembly will reconvene on August 24, with the Raja Perlis already granting consent for the convening of the state assembly.
Hamdan was reported saying that Perlis has no problems convening its state assembly as the Emergency is scheduled to end on August 1.
Status: Scheduled to reconvene August 24.
On June 19, Melaka Deputy Speaker Datuk Ghazale Muhamad was reported saying there was a discussion with Speaker Datuk Seri Ab Rauf Yusoh to seek an audience with the state governor to seek consent for the state legislative assembly to reconvene, with the actual date required to be gazetted two weeks before it actually convenes.
National news agency Bernama reported that the Melaka state legislative assembly is expected to convene in mid-July at the latest after the gazetting of the date.
Status: Plans to reconvene soon, expected by mid-July at latest.
On June 18, local daily Berita Harian’s portal reported Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail as saying that the state government is always ready to reconvene the state legislative assembly, but that it would be subject to the Pahang regent’s consent especially in determining the date for it to be reconvened.
Berita Harian had previously reported on June 13 that the dates of August 16 to 20 had already been scheduled last year for Pahang’s state legislative assembly, but with the Pahang speaker saying that these dates were subject to change depending on factors such as the pandemic and movement restriction orders and Emergency ordinances.
Status: Ready to reconvene.
Unlike these states, Sarawak will likely not be making plans to reconvene as the state legislative assembly’s five-year term ended on June 6. The Sarawak state legislative assembly would have been dissolved under normal circumstances and with fresh state elections in Sarawak then legally required to be held within 60 days of the dissolution, but both the dissolution and the resulting state elections have been suspended due to the Emergency.
Once the Emergency is lifted, the Sarawak state assembly would be dissolved and Sarawak state elections would have to be held.
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