KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's emergency will not see any changes of government while it is in effect, according to a proclamation gazetted late on Thursday (Jan 14), meaning that embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will remain in power despite appearing to lose his parliamentary majority this week.
This comes as the move to suspend Parliament during the emergency - which ends on Aug 1 or sooner should an independent committee decide that the coronavirus pandemic is under control - drew criticism from across the political divide, leading the opposition to explore various avenues to reverse the order that gained royal assent on Monday.
"For so long as the emergency is in force... the Prime Minister and the Cabinet existing immediately prior to the issuance of the Proclamation of Emergency on 11 January 2021 who have been conferred the executive functions shall continue to exercise the executive authority of the Federation and such other persons who have been conferred the executive functions by law shall continue to exercise such functions," declared the gazette.
The same provision applies to existing state governments, and with both federal and state legislatures suspended, all power to make rules now rests with the executive.
Former premier Mahathir Mohamad lashed out at Tan Sri Muhyiddin on Friday, calling his successor a "dictator" for resorting to an emergency which was ostensibly called to ensure the government can douse surging Covid-19 infections without being being sidetracked by politics.
"It will be a kind of dictatorship where people cannot protest or question," he said on radio station BFM. "We are doing away with democracy completely by using the emergency in order to give Muhyiddin full power without anyone saying anything."
Even some leaders from Umno, which is part of the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact, have poured scorn on the government's request for emergency powers.
Supreme council member Razlan Rafii said Mr Muhyiddin's warning of "stern action" against those who undermined the government's efforts to combat Covid-19 during the emergency creates a climate of fear of a potential clampdown.
Former law minister Nazri Aziz, one of two Umno MPs who pulled support for Mr Muhyiddin in the past week, said "when he applied for the emergency, it means he admitted he has lost and no longer enjoys majority support".
Only 109 out of Malaysia's 220 MPs (two seats remain vacant) now back the PN government. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who has in recent months made unsubstantiated claims of holding a parliamentary majority, on Thursday said the emergency proposal was "illegitimate due to the reduced number of MPs that support the government".
"The Prime Minister is focused on retaining power," he wrote in a memo to all MPs. "Therefore it is hoped the honourable member can send a memo to the King to request His Majesty's grace and wisdom to retract the Proclamation of Emergency and decree that Parliament must convene by Jan 31."
Lawmakers from Datuk Seri Anwar's Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) are also mounting challenges to the emergency and suspension of Parliament.
Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Karim said the suspension of Parliament must be "challenged and opposed" as the Constitution allows for Parliament to sit during an emergency, as was the case from 1971 to 2012, when there were four emergency proclamations in effect and nine general elections held.
Selayang MP Willian Leong is also gathering a group of senior lawyers to overturn the emergency in court.
One of the lawyers involved told The Straits Times there was precedent from the United Kingdom, when the Supreme Court overturned in 2019 the royal assent to prorogue Parliament under the advice of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The court ruled that the government did not provide good reason to make such a request, where the effect would be to absolve the administration from being held to account.