Malaysian ministers defend need to seek emergency

They claim opposition is trying to sow discord amid govt's fight against Covid-19 outbreak

(From far left) Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in a video posted on Regent of Pahang Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim's (in blue) Instagram stories on Friday. PHOTO: TENGKU HASSANAL SHAH/INSTAGRAM
(From left) Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in a video posted on Regent of Pahang Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim's (in blue) Instagram stories on Friday. PHOTO: TENGKU HASSANAL SHAH/INSTAGRAM

Malaysian Cabinet ministers yesterday defended their decision to seek emergency powers on Friday, amid criticism from the opposition and civil society over what some are calling an undemocratic move by the Muhyiddin administration to stay in power.

In a posting on Twitter late on Friday, Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa asked what other legal provision would allow elections in Malaysia to be delayed amid a resurgent wave of coronavirus infections.

He was sharing a local media report citing lawyers as saying that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.

He claimed the majority of Malaysians do not want to go to the ballot, having seen how last month's polls in Sabah triggered record numbers of daily infections and deaths.

A by-election in Batu Sapi, Sabah, is scheduled for Dec 5, and state polls must be held in neighbouring Sarawak by the middle of next year.

The Umno lawmaker asked in his tweet which law to use when Batu Sapi voters want the government to postpone the by-election.

He added: "Which law to use when Sarawakians want their PRN (state election) to be postponed for fear of what happened to Sabah. And which law to use when 87 per cent of voters indicated they don't want GE for fear of Covid-19 outbreak." It was unclear where he obtained the figure on the percentage of voters who want to avoid a general election.

Tan Sri Annuar added in a Facebook post that "various parties are threatening to topple the Prime Minister through the Parliament sitting next month".

"If that happens, the PM can dissolve Parliament and a general election must be held," he said.

"What would be the outcome if in the next two, three months, we prioritise political power struggles in the name of democracy... allowing elections everywhere, surrendering the lives of the public to fate."

Malaysia's national polls are not due until 2023. But a political imbroglio, triggered when Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed he had a "formidable majority" last month, has raised the spectre that Budget 2021, to be tabled in Parliament on Nov 6, would be defeated when a vote is taken.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had 113 MPs backing him in the 222-seat House, but there are questions over whether he still has that majority behind him.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional government could lose a vote in Parliament if just three out of its 113 MPs defect.

Should the government fail to approve spending for next year, Mr Muhyiddin would have to resign, possibly triggering snap polls as no other MP appears to be able to command a parliamentary majority.

An emergency would allow Parliament and elections to be suspended, while laws and expenditure can be approved directly by the government.

In a statement yesterday, Senior Minister for Economy Azmin Ali accused Datuk Seri Anwar of stirring up instability with "outright lies and subterfuge" by claiming a parliamentary majority. He added that the opposition's accusations "about the nation descending into dictatorship should a state of economic emergency be declared is therefore an act of utter recklessness".

"Let us be clear. Our real enemy is Covid-19 (but) opposition leaders have again chosen instead to sow fear and resentment amongst the people against the government's earnest efforts at securing public health and safety while ensuring economic recovery," Datuk Seri Azmin said.

These statements were the first public comments made by Cabinet ministers on the need for an emergency since the special Cabinet meeting decided on the matter on Friday morning.

Malaysia's national palace said yesterday that the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, will consult eight other state monarchs as soon as possible before making a decision.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysian ministers defend need to seek emergency'. Print Edition | Subscribe