Malaysia declared a state of emergency yesterday to curb surging Covid-19 infections, but Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin promised it would not have to undergo curfew or military rule.
In a nationwide broadcast, Tan Sri Muhyiddin sought to instil calm, saying that the government and public services would continue to function normally.
"The civilian government will continue to function. The emergency proclaimed by the King is not a military coup and curfews will not be enforced," he said, referring to the emergency order which expires on Aug 1.
Mr Muhyiddin said there would be no parliamentary or state assembly sittings and elections for the duration of the emergency, but vowed that a general election would be called as soon as it is lifted, once the pandemic is under control.
"Then it will be up to the public to elect a new government," said the Prime Minister.
But his opponents immediately slammed the move, which prevented snap polls, as a ploy to keep his Perikatan Nasional (PN) government in power. Coincidentally, the PN appeared to have lost its majority in Parliament yesterday.
The move revived the emergency proposal, initially put forward last October, which had then been rejected by the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah.
Yesterday, though, the King consented to a similar request, marking the first time since 1969 that a nationwide state of emergency has been declared in the country.
A statement from the Palace yesterday announcing the King's assent for the emergency order said a bipartisan independent committee of MPs and health experts would recommend if the emergency could be lifted earlier.
Noting that beds and intensive care units at hospitals for Covid-19 patients were nearly full, Sultan Abdullah approved the emergency powers as a "proactive move to control and flatten daily Covid-19 positive cases that have breached four figures continuously since December".
Malaysia has recorded more than 2,000 new cases daily for the past week. A record 3,309 cases were reported yesterday, taking the total to over 141,000 with 559 deaths. This has left the healthcare system on the brink of collapse with 30,000 active cases.
Mr Muhyiddin said the emergency order meant the King could put into effect the necessary decrees to tackle the pandemic, including by ordering that private healthcare facilities be taken over by the government.
When it requested similar powers last October, the Muhyiddin administration said that it wanted to ensure that efforts against Covid-19 would not be jeopardised by an increasingly unstable political atmosphere in which Umno, the largest component party supporting the ruling PN pact, was threatening to pull the rug from under the government.
Political uncertainty has spiked again after three-quarters of Umno divisions recently passed resolutions to cut ties with Mr Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.
Two Umno MPs have declared they no longer support the PN, leaving it with just 109 MPs, two fewer than needed for a majority in the 222-seat Parliament, with two seats vacant.
Many see the emergency declaration as a political move. "He doesn't have the majority support of MPs... He can't risk a no-confidence vote in Parliament," said a netizen known as @suetmei in a tweet, referring to Mr Muhyiddin.