Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin yesterday faced calls to resign from both sides of the political aisle after the king rebuffed his proposal to call a COVID-19 state of emergency that critics saw as an undemocratic attempt to hold onto power.
Yassin’s proposal for the king to declare a state of emergency would have suspended parliament and let him dodge an imminent test of his support.
King Sultan Abdullah “is of the opinion that there is currently no need for His Majesty to declare a state of emergency in this country or any part of Malaysia,” the palace said on Sunday.
Malaysia’s number of COVID-19 cases has doubled to 26,565 in just three weeks following a new outbreak, mainly in Sabah state on Borneo island.
Politicians from both sides of the divide, as well as legal and medical experts, have said an emergency declaration is unnecessary, and that there are sufficient laws to curb public movement and impose penalties to curb the outbreak.
Some have warned that declaring an emergency could ruin the economy and plunge Malaysia into a dictatorship. Emergency laws were last invoked nationally in 1969 during deadly racial riots.
The king in a statement said that the government has handled the pandemic well and he believed Muhyiddin was capable of coping with the crisis, though he also called for a halt to “all politicking” that could disrupt the government’s stability.
Muhyiddin hours later said that the Cabinet had noted the king’s decision and would further discuss the decree. Local media said that the Cabinet was expected to meet later yesterday.
“The priority of the Cabinet and the government at this time is to protect citizens from the COVID-19 disease,” Muhyiddin said in a statement.
He also welcomed the king’s advice to ensure political stability.
Muhyiddin took power in March, but holds only a two-seat majority in parliament. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says that he has majority support, but needs the king’s approval to form a new government, and the biggest party in the ruling coalition is angry about being sidelined in Muhyiddin’s government.
A key test comes early next month when the government is due to seek approval for next year’s budget in parliament.
If Muhyiddin is unable to pass the bill, pressure would build for him to resign or call new elections.
A state of emergency could allow him to approve the budget without a vote and consolidate his support, and he could govern through ordinances that could not be challenged in court.
“In whatever way you look at it, indications are that the PM has realized that he has effectively lost his majority,” said Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, political science professor at Malaysia’s University of Science.
Despite the king’s rejection of the call for a state of emergency, his endorsement of Muhyiddin’s government could offer a reprieve and help the prime minister get the budget bill passed.
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