Hundreds of black-clad Malaysian youth rallied in central Kuala Lumpur to demand the prime minister’s resignation over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as new cases surged in a surge that has also become a political crisis.
Public anger against the unelected government of Muhyiddin Yasin, which took power in March 2020 after tying up with the opposition, has led to an eight-fold increase in cases since January. Despite the virus emergency in January and the lockdown from June 1, new daily infections first crossed 10,000 on July 13 and have remained there ever since. The total number of deaths has risen to around 9,000. About 20% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The rally put pressure on Muhyiddin, after Malaysia’s king rebuked his government for misleading parliament on the state of emergency measures.
Muhyiddin obtained royal assent to declare a state of emergency in January, allowing him to suspend parliament and rule by ordinance until August 1 without legislative approval. Critics slammed the Emergency as a ploy for Muhyiddin to cling to power at a time when his razor-thin parliament majority is in danger.
Wearing face masks, holding black flags and placards, protesters chanted “Fight! Fight!” and “Muhyiddin resign.” Some carried fake corpses wrapped in white cloth to depict the rising death toll from the virus.
When police stopped them from marching to Independence Square, they sat down a meter (3 feet) across the street with a large banner that read, “Government failed.”
He put forward three demands: Muhyiddin’s resignation, resumption of regular parliamentary sessions and automatic loan moratorium to help those affected by the pandemic. After a struggle of about two hours, they dispersed peacefully.
Parliament reopened on Monday for the first time this year after Muhyiddin succumbed to pressure from the king, but it was only to brief lawmakers on the pandemic and debate was banned.
King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Abdullah on Thursday reprimanded the government for misleading parliament on scrapping emergency ordinances, but Muhyiddin insisted his administration had not violated the constitution.
The king said he had not given his consent to the cancellation and asked the government to bring the matter up for debate in parliament – leading to a vote that could test Muhyiddin’s majority. Muhyiddin said that the king would have to act on the advice of the cabinet.
The public demonstration has sparked a constitutional crisis and undermined Muhyiddin’s position as lawmakers have accused the government of treason. The largest party in his ruling coalition has supported Muhyiddin’s call to step down.
Parliament has been adjourned until Monday, but it is not clear whether a no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin will be allowed.