Malaysia’s parliament convened Monday to hear a formal address by the king, then adjourned just as quickly, allowing Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to escape a no-confidence vote.
The legislature had originally been scheduled to vote on the no-confidence motion filed by Yassin's predecessor Mahathir Mohamad. But parliament speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusoff announced last week that he received a letter from Muhyiddin saying Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah’s speech would be the only item on the agenda because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The king appointed Prime Minister Muhyiddin in early March, days after the 94-year-old Mahathir stepped down suddenly in February after his ruling coalition collapsed. Muhyiddin, who served in Mahathir’s cabinet as home affairs minister, filled his government with several members of the United Malays National Organization, which had ruled Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957 until it was defeated by Mahathir’s coalition in 2018.
The UNMO was driven from office by voters weary of corruption, especially a scandal involving former Prime Minister Najib Razak and the looting of state-owned investment bank 1MDB.
Mahathir’s government had aggressively prosecuted Najib on corruption charges related to the 1MDB scandal, but prosecutors last week dropped all charges against Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, who was charged last year for allegedly receiving $250 million from the fund. Riza, who owned a Hollywood production company that financed such films as the Martin Scorsese-directed film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” agreed to return $107 million in assets to Malaysia in exchange for having the charges dismissed.
Former Attorney-General Tommy Thomas denounced the agreement Monday in a written statement, calling it a “sweetheart deal for Riza but terrible for Malaysia.”