Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AFP) – Malaysia has declared a state of emergency over the Coronavirus and will suspend parliament at least until August and halt any efforts to hold general elections, but critics have accused it of being a political move by besieged Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to stay in power. .
The palace said in a statement Tuesday that King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmed Shah agreed on Monday to Mohiuddin’s proposal to declare a state of emergency until August 1 to limit the spread of the virus, which has reached a critical level.
In a televised address to citizens, Mohieddin assured that the state of emergency „was not a military coup and no curfew would be imposed.“ He said his civilian government would remain in power and Malaysia was still „open for business“.
The emergency declaration came just a day before the return of millions of people in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city, the administrative capital, Putrajaya, and five high-risk states to near-closure for two weeks.
Opposition lawmakers, analysts and critics said the state of emergency appeared aimed at stopping the collapse of Muhyiddin’s government, amid threats from the United Malays National Organization, the largest party in his ruling coalition, to withdraw support for an early general election.
„If this is the real underlying cause, declaring a state of national emergency is not just an exaggeration of the killing, but rather an abuse of executive power that puts the country at great risk,“ according to a joint statement issued by activist groups and NGOs.
Muhyiddin took power in March after instigating the collapse of the reformist coalition that won the 2018 elections and joined the opposition to form a Malay-based government. But his government is shaken by a slim majority in Parliament.
Nazri Aziz, the second deputy of the United Malays National Organization, announced later on Tuesday that he would no longer support Muhyiddin. With more UMN lawmakers expected to follow suit, he said the state of emergency was an admission of Muhyiddin’s defeat. Many in UMNO are unhappy that the party is playing the second violin of Muhyiddin Malay.
Mohieddin said that the national parliament and all state legislatures will be suspended, and that elections will not be allowed during this period. He pledged to call general elections as soon as the crisis subsided and the ballot was safe to take place.
Oh E Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said that most people can understand the need for movement restrictions, but the emergency declaration seems exaggerated because it is unclear how it could help slow the spread of the virus.
He said: „It is very clear that it is a political step on the part of Muhyiddin to anticipate political challenges from his opponents in the ruling coalition, as well as from the opposition.“
The last time Malaysia declared a state of emergency was in 1969 after bloody racist riots that claimed hundreds of lives. The king, who can declare a state of emergency allowing to rule the country through decrees that cannot be appealed in court, in October rejected Muhyiddin’s request to declare a state of emergency.
King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmed Shah said at the time that existing laws were sufficient to stop the spread of the virus. But in a statement issued by the palace Tuesday, the king said he had taken into consideration public safety and the country’s interest as the epidemic escalated and parts of the country were struggling with floods that had displaced thousands.
Later on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health reported 3,309 cases of the new Coronavirus, a new daily record, raising the number of infections in the country to 141,533, compared to more than 15,000 cases three months ago. The death toll has also risen to 559.
Announcing the lockdown on Monday, Mohieddin warned that the country’s healthcare system was on the verge of collapse. He said daily coronavirus cases, which have passed 2,000 in recent weeks, could jump to 8,000 by the end of May if nothing is done. The Department of Health also said that it had identified the first case of a UK highly contagious variant in the country.
On the other hand, the office of Interior Minister Hamzah Zainuddin announced, on Tuesday, that he had become the third minister in the government within days to be tested for HIV infection.
Under the renewed restrictions starting Wednesday, social gatherings and interstate travel have been banned, and movement has been restricted in a 10-kilometer (6-mile) radius, similar to the national lockdown last March. However, certain sectors in manufacturing, construction, services, trade, distribution and farms will be allowed to operate under strict guidelines.
Mohieddin assured investors that the emergency period would provide „much-needed calm and stability, in addition to enabling us to focus on economic recovery and renewal.“
Joseph Benedict, a researcher at the rights group Civic Monitor, said the state of emergency appeared to be another attempt by Mohiuddin to „maintain power, obstruct elections and remove parliamentary oversight“ instead of seriously addressing the epidemic.
„A dark day for democracy,“ he wrote on Twitter.
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