By Hidir Reduan Abdul Rashid | Malaysiakini

The suspension of Parliament during the current emergency will prevent proper checks against the power of the prime minister, according to the legal fraternity.

Lawyers also questioned whether the emergency proclamation intended to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia was actually a response to certain political manoeuvres to topple the present administration.

Constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s announcement today that Dewan Rakyat sittings are suspended during the emergency basically amounted to the disappearance of a mechanism to scrutinise the actions of the government.

“If Parliament is suspended, then there is no check and balance on the actions of the government.

“Part of Parliament’s role is to scrutinise the actions of the government of the day. Now, that is gone during the emergency,” New told Malaysiakini today.

Today, in a televised speech, Muhyiddin announced that no elections or Parliament sittings would be conducted during the current emergency.

In what is believed to be a veiled reference to certain quarters within Umno, the prime minister noted that some were pressuring him to call for an election during the pandemic.

Muhyiddin said he cannot do so during a pandemic but assured that he will call for polls as soon as it is safe to do so.

Through a Facebook posting today, another constitutional lawyer, Surendra Ananth, said that the present situation now empowers the prime minister to make ordinances that can affect a person’s fundamental rights enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

Among them are the right to free speech, expression, and association, the right to life and personal liberty, and equality before the law.

“It is unfortunate that Parliament will not be sitting…

“Parliament acts as a check and balance for the proclamation of emergency and ordinances made by the PM (prime minister)…

“Wide-ranging powers now rest with the PM to make ordinances that can contravene the Federal Constitution including our fundamental rights,” the lawyer cautioned.

He explained that when Parliament is not sitting due to the emergency, the Agong, on the advice of the prime minister, can make ordinances that could potentially violate a person’s fundamental rights and provisions in the Federal Constitution, except for matters concerning custom, Islamic law, native law, citizenship, religion, and language.

However, Surendra noted that Article 55 of the Federal Constitution states that there cannot be more than a six-month gap between parliamentary sessions, and that the last sitting was on Dec 17 last year.

“Constitutionally, he (prime minister) can postpone the sitting of Parliament to June 17, 2021.

“Under Article 55 there cannot be more than a six-month gap between sittings of Parliament. The last sitting was on Dec 17, 2020, I believe.

“However, he could arguably pass a law to derogate from Article 55, thus allowing the suspension of Parliament during the emergency period,” Surendra said.

Lawyer Muhammad Rafique Rashid Ali claimed that the emergency proclamation was Muhyiddin’s attempt to cling to power because he allegedly lost his majority support from lawmakers.

“The effect is for all to see. A desperate attempt to cling on to political power when it is clear to all that the PM has lost his majority.

“One question which is unclear, at the point of time when the PM was advising the King, was he still having majority? Hence to me, the advice is subject to judicial scrutiny,” Rafique told Malaysiakini.

Another lawyer, Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar, echoed a similar claim, adding that there is no need for the emergency proclamation when there are other ways to tackle the spread of Covid-19 in Malaysia.

He pointed to the portion of Muhyiddin’s speech on the emergency today when the premier made reference to certain quarters calling for election during the pandemic.

“In the speech, he talked about election proposed by certain quarters and that he is taking action as a responsible leader.

“However, recent media reports have hinted at him not having sufficient support, with some MPs declaring this to the media.

“He should call for a parliamentary session and test whether he has the confidence (of the majority of lawmakers). We are not sure whether he has support or not.

“There is no necessity for emergency at the moment as it would not benefit the people,” Syed told Malaysiakini.

It was recently reported that Umno MPs Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah withdrew support for Muhyiddin.

Without the support of the two Umno MPs, Muhyiddin now has the support of 110 out of 220 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat. Two more seats are vacant.