The Malaysian King declared a nationwide state of emergency for several months a day before a strict lockdown was imposed on millions of people, a move that critics say will allow his unstable government to escape the storm. ‘review and cling to power.
A statement from the National Palace said Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah had agreed to declare a state of emergency until August 1 following a request from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. If the infections are under control, the measures could be lifted more quickly.
The decision is expected to confer enormous powers on Muhyiddin and his cabinet. A state of emergency would allow the suspension of parliament, meaning the government would have the power to introduce laws without approval. The elections would also be suspended.
The announcement came on Tuesday morning, as residents of the capital Kuala Lumpur and five states braced for further restrictions. Lockdown measures that will be imposed from midnight Wednesday will ban social activities and interstate travel for the next two weeks, while most businesses will be closed.
Malaysia had succeeded in mainly controlling the virus after introducing a strict lockdown last year, but a new outbreak emerged in September linked to an election held in Sabah state. Muhyiddin warned that the health system was “at a breaking point”.
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, Malaysia has faced continued political instability over the past year.
Muhyiddin came to power in March, after former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned unexpectedly in February, causing the government to collapse. Amid the political chaos, the king met with the 222 deputies to determine which potential leader had majority support, before appointing Muhyiddin as prime minister. However, his legitimacy has been called into question, with some pointing out that he did not gain power through the ballot box.
Muhyiddin’s ruling coalition has only a slim majority and remains precarious, with key allies in his coalition threatening to withdraw support. This could lead to the collapse of the government and snap elections which some fear will worsen the epidemic.
There is concern that the declaration of emergency will undermine democracy in the country and that it will be used by Muhyiddin to cling to his position.
“The declaration of a state of emergency appears to be another attempt by Muhyiddin to retain power, block elections and remove parliamentary oversight, rather than seriously tackling the pandemic,” tweeted Josef Benedict of Civicus, a global alliance of civil society organizations. and activists.
Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmood, a legal expert at the International Islamic University of Malaysia, said the government would gain broad powers during the emergency.
“If parliament is not in session, the government has the power to legislate. The constitution is more or less suspended, because a substantial part of it can be annulled by an emergency law, ”he said.
Malaysia has reported more than 138,000 cases of the virus and 555 deaths since the start of the epidemic.
Health officials have warned that the current wave of infections could see the number of daily cases rise to 8,000 by May if restrictions are not imposed.
Reuters contributed to this report.