Webinar on “Reforming Malaysia’s Parliament: Lessons from 2020-2021”

In this webinar, Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqui spoke on the key challenges impeding the full functioning of Malaysia’s Parliament. He also lays out key reforms for revitalizing this foundational institution.


Tuesday, 28 September 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar by Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqui to discuss “Reforming Malaysia’s Parliament: Lessons from 2020-2021”.  Prof Shad is an Emeritus Professor at UiTM and currently Visiting Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He is also the holder of the Tunku Abdul Rahman Foundation Chair at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.

Speaker Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqui with moderator Dr Francis Hutchinson. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

As Malaysia was placed under a state of emergency earlier this year on the grounds of a raging COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliament was in abeyance. According to Prof Shad, the Malaysian constitution under the 1957 draft envisioned the Parliament to be the heartbeat of the nation’s constitutional and political system. Some of the Parliament’s key functions include the granting of democratic legitimacy to the executive branch of the government under Article 43(2)(a), holding the executive branch accountable under Article 43(3), and approving or rejecting new electoral boundaries proposed by the Election Commission, among others. Prof Shad lamented that in practise the Malaysian Parliament has not lived up to this goal with the executive branch wielding pervasive dominance, as evident in the three key events since 2020.

After the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government in February 2020, the Muhyiddin Yassin-led Perikatan Nasional administration was sworn into power. Despite the Palace’s press releases advising Prime Minister Muhyiddin to summon Parliament as soon as possible, the scheduled parliamentary sitting in March was postponed as a vote of no-confidence was anticipated. Prof Shad commented that Prime Minister Muhyiddin reconvened parliament only after his position was consolidated, a few months after he was first sworn into the position.

Prof Shad commented that the second incident was the summary removal of Parliament speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof in July 2020, despite his reputation for acting impartially. The motion to replace Mohamad Ariff was tabled by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, on the grounds that “there is a new candidate for the post”. The motion itself was passed without much debate, as the Deputy Speaker only allowed two individuals from the government and the opposition to debate for 10 minutes each.

The third incident was the suspension of Parliament during the state of emergency from January to August 2021. Prof Shad explained that the Parliament therefore became an unwilling bystander when Malaysia experienced the devastating health and economic crisis brought about by COVID-19. He argued that, contrary to popular belief, the suspension of Parliament is not automatic during an emergency, although it is permissible. Prof Shad mentioned Article 150 which accords Parliament the power to scrutinise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s (King’s) Emergency Proclamation and, if need be, to annul it; and to enact Emergency Acts of Parliament.

Prof Shad concluded that, aside from the two years following the 1969 race riots, Parliament has never been so marginalised. He added that a silver lining is the historic bipartisan deal (memorandum of understanding) between the newly sworn-in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri and the Pakatan Harapan opposition. The deal, which if implemented, could strengthen the parliament as an institution to check against and hold the executive accountable.

During the question-and-answer session, topics raised include the likelihood of a bipartisan deal being passed in parliament, the desirability of a law banning party-hopping, and recall elections as a solution to prevent political instability, among others. The webinar was attended by 60 participants from Singapore and abroad. Dr Francis Hutchinson, Senior Fellow of the Malaysia Studies Programme at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)