Monday, February 22, 2021

Why schools can re-open but Parliament cannot convene

If the emergency is lifted and the prime minister loses a no-confidence vote, failure to agree on a PM candidate would result in a snap election.

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Why schools can re-open but Parliament cannot convene

If the emergency is lifted and the prime minister loses a no-confidence vote, failure to agree on a PM candidate would result in a snap election.

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Of late, the online media has been inundated with queries on why schools can reopen in phases starting March 1 while Parliament cannot convene. This follows the education ministry’s recent announcement that students can return for face-to-face lessons after months of having online classes owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many argue that millions of students returning to schools nationwide poses a higher health risk than several hundred lawmakers and officials congregating for several weeks. Besides, it’s harder to enforce Covid-19 SOPs for students than for lawmakers, who set health policies and ought to lead by example.

During such discourse, snide remarks were passed about how PM Muhyiddin Yassin was afraid to convene the Dewan Rakyat as he had supposedly lost the support of MPs. Critics also accused the PM of using the emergency proclamation to cling to power.

Such arguments miss the point. As we know, one reason the emergency was declared was to prevent snap polls that could be triggered by the uncertainty over who commands majority support.

Based on the previous voting pattern in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat, Perikatan Nasional (PN) had a majority of around two seats. But several deaths among MPs and the withdrawal of support from Umno MPs could have left PN with less than 112 votes, which is a simple majority.

Even if Muhyiddin has lost the support of the minimum 112 MPs, it doesn’t mean that there would automatically be a new PM if there was no emergency. As we know, the opposition is fractious and could not come to an agreement on who to back as PM.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition’s main contenders, are both staking a claim on the prime ministership. Neither has a clear majority. Making things more fluid is that several Umno MPs could swing either way.

If the emergency were lifted and Muhyiddin were to lose a no-confidence vote in the Dewan Rakyat, a failure to agree on a PM candidate would only result in one thing: a snap election.

Based on the experience in the Sabah polls last year, this is the last thing we need. That state election triggered the third wave of Covid-19 in the country, killing hundreds in the process and infecting tens or hundreds of thousands.

We cannot have a repeat of that. The national Covid-19 vaccination programme has barely gotten underway and we cannot afford to undo all the good mitigation work that succeeded in bringing the infection numbers down.

I am all in favour of having polls. Muhyiddin has said that he will call for an election once the Covid-19 situation eases. For now, let’s focus on containing the spread of Covid-19. One way to do that is to avoid a snap election that could be triggered if the Dewan Rakyat is allowed to convene.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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