Malaysia’s royal leaders were to meet yesterday amid growing public anger over the Malaysian government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic during a state of emergency that has left democracy suspended for a year.
The meeting, to be chaired by Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah at 2:30pm, comes as daily COVID-19 infections averaged about 5,800 in the past seven days, nearly double than when Malaysia declared emergency rule in January.
“The issue now is whether the emergency, which is set to end Aug. 1, should be continued,” Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, the head of the ruling United Malays National Organization’s youth wing, wrote on Facebook on Monday. “What’s the use of an emergency if it’s not helping the people?”
Malaysia’s move to declare a state of emergency was the first in more than half a century. It allowed embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to suspend parliament and enact emergency laws without legislative approval, with the aim of bringing the outbreak under control. That also meant no snap polls could be called during that period.
The king might be contemplating doing two things, said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “Number one is whether to convene parliamentary sitting, even if emergency is ongoing, and number two is a more fundamental question, whether to extend the emergency beyond the first of August.”
Malaysia on Friday extended a nationwide lockdown by another two weeks as the number of COVID-19 cases remained high. Only essential sectors may operate, while movement is limited to a 10km radius.
The measures could kill off the country’s manufacturing sector, the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers said on Saturday.
The rulers are unlikely to make major political decisions, said James Chin, a professor at the University of Tasmania.
“The royals want to be seen as above politics, so whatever they do, it will be seen as a suggestion, rather than an order,” Chin said.
However, they are under tremendous pressure to tell Muhyiddin to reconvene parliament, he added.
The Malaysian Parliament would be allowed to meet in September or October in the third phase of a recovery plan announced by Muhyiddin in an address on Tuesday.
Malaysia would enter this phase once daily COVID-19 cases fall below 2,000 and 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, he said.
This is the second rulers’ gathering since the king ascended the throne and comes after he gathered feedback from political leaders last week.
The last meeting, held in October last year, resulted in the monarch rejecting Muhyiddin’s initial attempt at seeking an emergency rule.
After staying in the background of national politics for decades, the king last year began moving center stage to fill a vacuum following the resignation of then-Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. The king resolved a week-long impasse by tapping Muhyiddin to become prime minister without a parliamentary vote after opposition leaders had sought meetings with the king while vying for power.
“This meeting further exhibits that the royalty will continue playing an expanding and conspicuous role in the Malaysian political landscape,” Piya Sukhani, a political analyst at Nanyang Technological University, said by e-mail.
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