KUALA LUMPUR, July 26 — Opposition lawmakers opened today’s Special Parliamentary Sitting by launching a verbal onslaught against the Dewan Rakyat Speaker, hurling accusations that included allegations of treason for failing to facilitate debate of the Proclamation of Emergency.
Tension arose immediately after Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun allowed several members from the Opposition bench to pose questions before the government tables its agenda, prompting them to criticise the proceeding as unconstitutional and demanded space to debate the government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Among those who rose to grill the Speaker were two-time prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (Langkawi), Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal (Semporna) and Gobind Singh Deo (Puchong).
Dr Mahathir, the third to speak, called the Perikatan Nasional (PN) administration’s handling of the pandemic an abysmal failure, and that lawmakers are duty-bound to scrutinise its policies but have been denied because of a regulation that has no legal basis.
“Your reverence Speaker, I’d like to state that today’s sitting is not the proceeding that was decreed by the Malay Rulers and his royal highness the Agong,” Dr Mahathir said.
“The public understands. I understand that the royal decree was for Parliament to convene as soon as possible. Firstly, it was obvious that the government did not heed the decree,” the Langkawi MP added.
“The government must surely know that the Covid-19 disease is increasing in the thousands daily. Deaths are numbering in the hundreds daily. Suicide cases are in the double digit. The people are suffering... that is the reason behind the royal decree.”
Dr Mahathir then accused the PN administration of attempting to mislead the world by holding a farcical sitting only to allow ministers to “explain” the government’s response to Covid-19 to date.
“This (the special sitting) is a lie,” the two time prime minister asserted.
The five-day special sitting that began today was convened after months of Opposition pressure that led the Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah to issue a decree calling for the Parliament to meet immediately.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin eventually caved in after the Palace issued a statement calling for sitting to be held three times.
Azhar, however, informed members of the Lower House later that Parliament will be convened as a special sitting where no debate or voting will be allowed. The ruling drew accusations that Azhar was protecting Muhyiddin’s government from any possible attempt to vote against the Emergency Proclamation.
Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (Port Dickson), whose motion to allow debate on the Emergency Ordinances that has been enacted in the last five months had been rejected by Azhar, claimed Parliamentary rules had been abused to prevent lawmakers from scrutinising the government.
Anwar’s motion had been rejected on grounds that it was submitted “too early.”
“These are technicalities intentionally used to quash the principles that we are upholding, that is the principles of the Federal Constitution,” the Opposition leader said.
“We are in a political, economic and constitutional crisis,” he added.
“It is a rare occasion that since Independence the Malay Rulers, the YDPA (Agong) were forced to issue a stern statement three times, unless the prime minister can stand up now and say the King does not understand the law.”
Anwar had previously sought to challenge the constitutionality of the Emergency Proclamation in court on the ground that the proclamation contravenes Article 150(3) of the Constitution.
The article states that voting must take place in the Lower House to approve or annul the Emergency. The suit was rejected by the High Court.
Several MPs that took the floor after the opposition leader highlighted the same point.
In a brief response, Azhar said the sitting was convened under a special circumstance whereby the third term proceedings have been put on hold. He cited Standing Order 11(3) that gives power to the prime minister to hold a conference whereby the business shall be appointed by the prime minister.
The record spike in daily Covid-19 cases in the last two months has fuelled public anxiety and backlash against the Muhyiddin administration, even as it imposed several lockdowns and announced several stimulus measures in response to the public health crisis.
Muhyiddin had previously pointed to the pandemic to justify Emergency rule.