Emergency should end and Parliament reconvene: Umno chief

Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi says it is obvious that the government could deal with Covid-19 without an emergency.
Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi says it is obvious that the government could deal with Covid-19 without an emergency.

The president of Umno - the biggest party in Malaysia's ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) government - has proposed that the ongoing state of emergency come to an end in August and for Parliament to reconvene, in his audience with the King yesterday.

"This is to ensure the country's democratic system is defended," Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters following an hour-long meeting with Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah. "It's obvious that the government in the past could deal with Covid-19 issues without declaring an emergency."

The King has been meeting political party leaders at the national palace since Wednesday to discuss the pandemic and the government's handling of it.

Zahid's stand came a day after former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, at his own meeting with the King, proposed that a National Operations Council (NOC) be set up to govern the country under the state of emergency and offered to lead that council.

Tun Dr Mahathir said the NOC, which governed the nation for two years after the race riots of May 13, 1969, 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 ruling coalition that had a stronger majority.

However, Zahid said that the NOC proposal was "out of line" under current circumstances, and that the emergency proclamation already covers the matters that a NOC can handle.

Pakatan Harapan, the biggest opposition bloc, yesterday also objected to the NOC proposal.

The King is meeting all political party leaders to hear their views about the Covid-19 crisis in the country and the state of emergency that was imposed in January, with his consent, to allow the government to curb the spread of the pandemic. It is due to end in August, but could be extended with the King's consent.

The crisis has worsened during the emergency period, forcing the country to impose its third lockdown on June 1. The lockdown was extended yesterday to June 28.

Malaysia's Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah yesterday said that an end to the emergency would mean several by-elections that were put on hold during the emergency, and the Sarawak state elections, due in August, will need to be held.

The King yesterday also met leaders of the Malaysian Indian Congress and Parti Bersatu Sabah, which are both part of the PN pact.

Earlier, he had met Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is also the head of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, as well as other opposition leaders such as the Democratic Action Party's Lim Guan Eng and Mr Mohamad Sabu of Parti Amanah Negara.

Yesterday was the final day for the King's face-to-face sessions with political leaders, and an online meeting has been scheduled with Sarawak's ruling party Gabungan Parti Sarawak for next Monday.

The King will be meeting the country's eight other rulers in a special conference next Wednesday to discuss the state of emergency and the Covid-19 crisis.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 12, 2021, with the headline 'Emergency should end and Parliament reconvene: Umno chief'. Subscribe