Malaysian king declares state of emergency to fight virus

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Kuala Lumpur (AFP)

The King of Malaysia declared a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday to fight a coronavirus outbreak that overwhelms hospitals, with critics saying it was an unstable government decision to cling to power.

The announcement came a day after the prime minister introduced sweeping new measures across much of the Southeast Asian nation, including shutting down most businesses, and warned that the system health was “at breaking point”.

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah has agreed to declare a state of emergency until August 1 following a request by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at a meeting on Monday, the national palace said in a statement.

The move allows for the suspension of parliament and political activities, such as local elections, and comes at a time when Muhyiddin’s highly unstable 10-month-old government faces a host of challenges.

Key allies in his ruling coalition are threatening to withdraw their support, which could lead to the collapse of the government and national polls that some say could worsen the epidemic.

Malaysia has kept the virus under control for much of last year with a difficult lockdown, but once the brakes have been relaxed, cases have accelerated and repeatedly hit new records in recent days.

The emergency could be lifted sooner if the infection rate slows, the palace statement added.

– “Dark day for democracy” –

An election in Sabah state last year was accused of triggering a new wave of infections that have spread across the country.

But critics have expressed concern that the declaration – rarely used in Malaysia – was a bet to cling to power by Muhyiddin that could erode civil liberties.

“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.

“A dark day for democracy. ”

Marina Mahathir, an activist and the daughter of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, tweeted that a declaration of emergency was a “declaration of failure”.

“Inability to handle the pandemic, failure to govern, failure to care about people,” she wrote.

Muhyiddin first tried to persuade the king to declare an emergency in October, but was pushed back.

Malaysia has been in the throes of political turmoil since March last year when Muhyiddin came to power without an election following Mahathir’s resignation and the collapse of his reformist administration.

The country has reported more than 138,000 cases of the virus and 555 deaths.

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