KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's longest-serving premier, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, mooted the revival of a council that governed the nation after its deadly May 13, 1969, race riots in his Thursday (June 10) audience with the King.
Dr Mahathir claimed the National Operations Council (Mageran), which was in charge for two years during the last national emergency until 1971, allowed Malaysia's second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, to "solve political problems at the time" by bringing in opposition parties to form a wider Barisan Nasional (BN) ruling coalition that had a stronger majority.
"I believe we can do it again. Since I was there (at the palace), I offered my services (to lead the council). We have ideas but if we are outside the government or have no power, it will be difficult to implement," the 95-year-old chairman of Parti Pejuang Tanah Air told a virtual press conference.
Four decades ago, Mageran was made up of a small group of political leaders from the Alliance coalition, the precursor to BN, and top civil servants that included the police and armed forces chiefs. Dr Mahathir is suggesting that aside from political figures across the divide, a new council can also include relevant experts on the Covid-19 pandemic.
The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, began a series of audiences with party chiefs across the divide on Wednesday.
It is set to culminate in a "special discussion" with the other eight state monarchs on June 16 on the deepening Covid-19 crisis and the state of emergency that is set to expire on Aug 1 after seven months, unless an extension is advised by the government and gains the King's assent.
The emergency was imposed on Jan 12 with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's administration saying it was needed to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Mahathir led the country for 24 years across two stints and is Tan Sri Muhyiddin's immediate predecessor.
The veteran politician said although "the King didn't reject" the idea for Mageran, he doubted that the special operations council would be reconstituted because "the government must suggest it to the King, but from the offing they have said we don't need it and everything is fine."
On Wednesday night, Mr Muhyidin's principal private secretary, Mr Marzuki Mohamad, posted a 10-minute video on Facebook claiming that though there were suggestions for Mageran to be formed again, it was not necessary.
The aide said the current situation "far differs" from the post-election riots of 1969, widely considered as Malaysia's darkest period.
"First, we are not facing a security emergency, but a health emergency. Second, we have a functioning Cabinet," he said.
"Once we have achieved herd immunity by the end of the year... we will be seeing a more vibrant political and democratic process. Not just Parliament sitting, even a general election can be held."
Dr Mahathir said he disagreed with the prospect of an election when raised by the King, even if it were held next year, as last year's Sabah state election showed how Covid-19 infections would spike in such an event.
Malaysia has failed to recover from the surge after the September polls, and is in the midst of a lockdown after its deadliest month of the Covid-19 pandemic so far.
The month of May saw all-time deaths nearly double to over 3,000, and the number of active cases and intensive care unit utilisation are now at record highs.
Leaders from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and the Malaysian Chinese Association - both of which are part of the Muhyiddin administration - and Parti Warisan Sabah also had audiences with the ruler on Thursday.
This followed Wednesday's meetings involving the three party chiefs in Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.
PH wants an end to the emergency as the coronavirus outbreak has only worsened since it was proclaimed.
PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said in a statement after his audience that the party remains committed to the current government and "continues to support the stance taken to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic".