Malaysia faces political uncertainty as King says no to emergency

He calls on lawmakers to cease all politicking and not to destabilise existing government

The Sultan of Johor's motorcade leaving the Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur after a meeting of the Malay rulers yesterday. Despite rejecting the emergency plan, the remarks from the palace yesterday appeared to endorse Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddi
The Sultan of Johor's motorcade leaving the Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur after a meeting of the Malay rulers on Oct 25, 2020.PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

In the latest twist to Malaysia's ongoing political saga, its King surprisingly rejected a controversial plan proposed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to impose emergency measures on the country, after discussing the matter with other state monarchs.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin's suggestion was ostensibly aimed at tackling the Covid-19 pandemic without political distractions. His opponents, however, claimed he no longer commanded majority support in Parliament, and was using the pandemic as an excuse to stay in power.

Yesterday, the King rejected his proposal while offering him verbal support in the ongoing political uncertainty.

"The government has managed the pandemic well and effectively and the King believes the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin can continue implementing its policies and enforcement measures to curb the spread of the pandemic," said the royal comptroller Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin. "There is no need at this time for His Majesty to declare an emergency in this country or any part of Malaysia."

The proposal, which would have suspended Parliament, had drawn flak for being excessive, and for providing Mr Muhyiddin's embattled administration a means to avoid having its majority tested when the Lower House reconvenes next month.

Despite rejecting the emergency plan, the remarks from the Palace yesterday appeared to endorse Mr Muhyiddin's government.

The King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, called on parliamentarians to cease all politicking and not to destabilise the existing government. He also stressed that Budget 2021, which will be tabled in Parliament on Nov 6, is crucial in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and revitalising the economy.

"There is no need for MPs to continue irresponsible actions that can threaten the stability of the existing government," said Datuk Fadil.

The Cabinet decision to request emergency measures had come amid growing uncertainty over Mr Muhyiddin's control of Parliament ahead of a vote on next year's Budget.

Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition governs with a slim majority of 113 MPs in the 222-strong Lower House, and he faces several no-confidence motions from his rivals. He also faces a challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who said late last month that he has a "formidable majority" to helm a new government.

Umno, the largest party in PN, had threatened to leave the alliance, but later backtracked and said it would support PN.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Muhyiddin was locked in deep discussions with close advisers and allies at his residence late into last night on how to react to the setback. "I appreciate His Majesty's faith in the government I lead and welcome his advice that the government's stability should not be threatened," Mr Muhyiddin said in a statement late yesterday, adding that the Cabinet would discuss the royal decree.

Emergency measures, government sources say, would have forestalled a Budget vote, and the need for the country to hold a general election during a pandemic, in the event Mr Muhyiddin's government fails to pass the Budget and prove its majority.

Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa had earlier said an emergency would be one way to legally delay upcoming elections which have been of concern since last month's Sabah's polls saw infections spike. A parliamentary by-election in Sabah is due on Dec 5, while Sarawak must also hold a state election by mid-next year.

Malaysia is experiencing a third wave of infections, with the total number of Covid-19 cases doubling within the month of October alone.

Yesterday, it recorded 823 new cases, all locally transmitted, bringing the national total to 26,565. Eight more deaths were reported, bringing the total to 229. Most new cases were from Sabah.

The King yesterday urged everyone, regardless of political leanings, to set aside their differences and support the government in its efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysia faces political uncertainty as King says no to emergency'. Print Edition | Subscribe