Malaysian police have blocked opposition politicians from marching in protest over a two-week lockdown of parliament, which they say is a ploy by the embattled prime minister to dodge a no-confidence vote.
With a crucial parliamentary session due, Malaysia’s prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin postponed it, and parliament will be shut for two weeks.
The health ministry said parliament was deemed a high-risk venue because four of 11 Covid-19 cases detected among staff and others were suspected to be the Delta variant.
Legislators and activists questioned the timing of the announcement of parliament’s closure, which came after the king rebuked Mr Muhyiddin’s government on Thursday for misleading parliament on the status of ordinances it issued during the seven-month coronavirus state of emergency.
The opposition immediately filed a motion of no-confidence against Mr Muhyiddin that was expected to have been raised on Monday.
Dozens of legislators gathered near Parliament held a banner calling for the resignation of Mr Muhyiddin and his cabinet.
They criticised the government for cowardice and said they must eventually face the people.
Mr Muhyiddin has led an unstable, unelected governing alliance since March 2020 after he initiated the downfall of the reformist government that won the 2018 elections.
Parliament has been shut down for several months just after he took office and since January this year, after the king approved his plan for an emergency that has failed to tackle the pandemic.
“This government has failed to carry out its duties but is continuing to cling to power,” said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Apart from mismanaging the pandemic, he said Mr Muhyiddin has also abused his power to bypass parliament and the king in withdrawing the emergency ordinances.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad called for the resignation of the entire cabinet, adding: “Only through this way, this prolonged political turmoil can end and focus can be fully given to efforts to resolve the health, economic and social crises that has plagued the country for more than 17 months.”
The MPs dispersed peacefully, as a water cannon truck and riot police armed with shields and batons shut off the road heading to parliament.
Last week’s sitting of parliament was the first of the year and was held after Mr Muhyiddin caved in to pressure from the king, but debates were banned in the session held only to brief legislators on the pandemic and related issues.
King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Abdullah said on Thursday he did not give his consent to annul emergency ordinances but told the government to debate them in parliament.
Mr Muhyiddin said that the king has to act on the cabinet’s advice and insisted his administration did not violate the constitution.
Any debate in parliament could test Mr Muhyiddin’s support, with his alliance holding a razor-thin majority.
Public anger has built up against the government as Malaysia’s Covid-19 cases this year jumped eightfold to more than 1.1 million.
New daily infections breached 10,000 on July 13 for the first time and have stayed there since. Total deaths have risen to above 9,000.
Nearly 20% of the population has been fully vaccinated.