Malaysia's King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, yesterday assented to a declaration of emergency in the Sabah parliamentary constituency of Batu Sapi to postpone a by-election due there next month, amid worries over the coronavirus pandemic.
A new date will be fixed for the by-election, which was to have been held on Dec 5.
"His Royal Majesty has assented to the proclamation of emergency for P185 Batu Sapi, Sabah, as a proactive step to curb the Covid-19 pandemic," said Comptroller of the Royal Household Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin in a statement.
The announcement was made after the King had an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to discuss the issue.
The King was also briefed on the emergency proposal by health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah, chief secretary to the Government Zuki Ali, Attorney-General Idris Harun and Election Commission chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh, said Datuk Ahmad Fadil.
Sultan Abdullah said it was appropriate for an emergency to be declared to delay the Batu Sapi by-election, as it would otherwise see over 3,000 people travelling from peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak to vote in Sabah.
He also noted that the state-wide election in Sabah on Sept 26 had triggered a spike in cases to triple digits, after having dropped to a single digit previously.
On Oct 25, the King had rejected a proposal by Tan Sri Muhyiddin to declare a nationwide emergency, a plan ostensibly aimed at tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. Critics, however, claimed that Mr Muhyiddin was using it as an excuse to stay in power and that he no longer commanded majority support in Parliament.
Later yesterday, Mr Muhyiddin said in a special address on the emergency declaration that there would be no curfew or military rule enforced in the Batu Sapi constituency, and economic and social activities could continue, subject to health protocols under the ongoing conditional movement control order for the whole of Sabah.
He pledged that once the pandemic was over, the by-election would take place.
The Batu Sapi parliamentary ward lost its representative when MP Liew Vui Keong, 60, a former law minister, died on Oct 2.
Two other seats have been vacated in the last few days with the deaths of two lawmakers.
MP Hasbullah Osman from Umno, who was the federal lawmaker for Gerik constituency in Perak, died on Monday of a heart attack. He was 63.
On Tuesday, state lawmaker Manis Muka Mohd Darah, 65, from Parti Warisan Sabah, died. She represented the Bugaya state seat.
Under Malaysian law, a by-election must be held within 60 days, once Parliament or the state assembly has been informed of a seat vacancy.
Mr Muhyiddin, in his address over television and on social media platforms, said the Cabinet had discussed postponing the Batu Sapi by-election in its meeting last Friday, and took into account the spread of Covid-19 in Sabah following the state elections on Sept 26.
He said that fears among election workers of possible exposure to the virus led to the Election Commission managing to appoint only 143 workers so far, just 17.1 per cent of the number needed for the by-election.
The need for election workers to travel and pass through many districts, and the risk to 22.3 per cent of voters who are senior citizens and therefore vulnerable to the disease, were among some of the factors which led to the decision, he said.