Malaysia PM Under Pressure as Anger Builds on Covid Surge
(Bloomberg) -- Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is facing renewed pressure to allow parliament to reconvene, as his move to suspend democracy in January is failing to contain the Covid outbreak amid rising public anger.
Malaysians’ vaccine hesitancy is one of the many indicators that the people have lost confidence in the government, said Azalina Othman Said, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and member of the ruling United Malays National Organisation. Public mistrust must be handled via public debate through parliament, she wrote on Twitter Thursday.
“When citizens are disconnected and angry, do not expect gratitude,” she said. “Given that Covid-19 is here to stay for years to come, we cannot afford to be in a state of emergency forever. Do we remain the only country in the world that has immobilized parliament in times of crisis?”
Daily infections have more than doubled since Malaysia declared a state of emergency in January in order to focus on the pandemic. Covid cases hit a record 7,857 cases Thursday and deaths reached an all-time high earlier this week, while the pace of the vaccination has failed to pick up. That has strained the resources of some of the nation’s large hospitals, where the use of Covid ICU beds is at full capacity.
Criticism about the government’s approach to a worsening pandemic and accusations of double-standards in enforcement of virus rules have resulted in an outpouring of anger on local social media in the past few months. The hashtag #Kerajaangagal, or failed government, frequently appears in Malaysian Twitter’s trending topics. A tweet by Dr Thanussha F. Xavier, leader of opposition party Muda, on removing the government was shared more than 400 times.
Muhyiddin said on Sunday he was happy to be criticized so long as the public supported the government’s efforts to tackle Covid by following the protocols.
“They can call me ‘stupid prime minister,’ it’s okay,” he said in an interview with state-owned RTM television, while ruling out a repeat of last year’s national lockdown. “I know how difficult it is to manage. But this is our joint responsibility.”
Malaysia’s move to declare a state of emergency was the first in more than half a century. It allowed Muhyiddin to suspend parliament until the emergency ends in August. That also meant no snap polls could be called during that period.
Still, suspending parliament has crippled both democracy and the government officials’ capacity to respond to MPs’ concerns, said Azalina, a parliamentarian herself. She proposed that the legislative body be allowed to reconvene without motions of confidence be heard, in order to “minimize unwarranted drama”.
Azalina was referring to the political upheaval Malaysia has experienced since last year, when various factions jockeyed for power after the former prime minister abruptly stepped down. Muhyiddin emerged as the head of an unwieldy bloc with a majority of only a few lawmakers, prompting repeated concerns about the strength and durability of the government.
“No general election should be held, but instead an interim emergency government with an emergency cabinet be formed, with representation from all political parties,” wrote Azalina.
Opposition leaders have welcomed the deputy speaker’s suggestions. “This is an agenda that I support,” wrote Senator Liew Chin Tong on Twitter. “Ultimately, parliament should be the arena for national consensus building.”
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