Dewan Rakyat sits amid Covid-19 fears

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

THE House of Representatives, or Dewan Rakyat, will reopen its doors today after almost six months of inactivity amid lingering concerns on the coronavirus, which has killed more than a hundred people and infected thousands in Malaysia.

As the country enters its third week under the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), which has seen most curbs on business activities lifted, lawmakers will return to the debating chamber for a speech by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah at 10am — the sole agenda for the sitting.

All MPs and senators are allowed to be physically present for the royal address, although strict social distancing rules will apply. Markers have been positioned on alternate chairs to maintain a two-seat gap, while hand sanitisers will be provided both inside and outside the chamber along the hallways.

Lawmakers are also encouraged to wear face masks, which will be provided as they make their way through the main block’s only entrance, which has been equipped with a thermal scanner. Visitors and guests, including high-ranking diplomats and government officers, are not allowed in.

Traditionally, the beginning of a new Parliament session is marked with an elaborate ceremony which would see the King inspect a guard of honour, accompanied by a 21- gun salute. Apart from members of both houses, guests in attendance would include judges, ambassadors and high commissioners.

Media coverage at the complex has also been restricted to state news outlet only to minimise contact as reporters tend to bunch up elbow to elbow. Others are forced to cover the session via live broadcast.

This will be Perikatan Nasional’s first Parliament sitting since Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin took office on March 1, following a week of power struggle in Putrajaya. Immediately after the takeover, it was announced that the first Dewan Rakyat sitting would be postponed from its original date on March 9.

Further postponement is not viable as Parliament will constitutionally stand dissolved if not convened latest by June 5, six months from the date it last adjourned.

Lawmakers were later informed that the first Dewan Rakyat meeting will only be held for one day instead of 15 days initially.

Last Wednesday, Speaker Tan Sri Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof in a statement said he received a letter from Muhyiddin informing him that the government has decided to change the meeting agenda to the King’s speech only on grounds that the spread of Covid-19 has not subsided fully.

The speaker outlined that there will be no meeting after the speech. It was previously stated that the one-day sitting would feature the royal address, followed by several motions and bills, including two supplementary bills related to Budget 2020 that constitute the government’s stimulus package.

Others included motions to select a new Public Accounts Committee chairman, rejig the parliamentary select committees and to name Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as Opposition leader. The speaker had also accepted Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s motion for a vote of no confidence against Muhyiddin, although it was not made clear if it would be debated in the one-day sitting.