Malaysian political crisis

Malaysians raise questions over 'emergency' rule

Sources say an "economic emergency" that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was seeking would not affect the daily lives of Malaysians.
Sources say an "economic emergency" that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was seeking would not affect the daily lives of Malaysians.PHOTO: REUTERS

In Malaysia, an emergency can be called once the King is satisfied, based on the Prime Minister's advice, that a grave emergency exists. This could happen when the security, the economy or public order in the nation is threatened.

Parliament can be suspended during an emergency, and by-elections and the general election can be postponed, constitutional analysts say.

"This will put a stop to party hopping and to all the secret tricks and horse trading surrounding no-confidence votes," constitutional expert Shad Saleem Faruqi wrote in an opinion piece in The Star daily on Thursday.

The federal government would then be empowered to push through policies that it would normally not be able to.

Questions over emergency powers were raised across the country yesterday as Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin chaired a special Cabinet meeting to decide on emergency measures ahead of the Nov 6 presentation of next year's Budget.

Details of what Tan Sri Muhyiddin presented to Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah in their meeting in the capital of Pahang state is not known.

What is known is that there is a big question mark over whether Mr Muhyiddin retains enough support in Parliament. There are worries that a general election could be called amid the worrying surge in coronavirus cases, should his ruling coalition collapse if he fails to pass government spending because he does not have enough lawmakers behind him in Parliament.

Sources say an "economic emergency" that the Premier was seeking would not affect the daily lives of Malaysians. There would be no military on the streets and people can go about their business as usual.

If this is true, it would be different from the national emergencies declared in the past, including the notorious one following deadly race riots in May 1969.

Since the country's independence in 1957, Malaysia has seen the declaration of four emergencies.

The first was in September 1964, when an emergency was called nationwide during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, after Indonesian soldiers landed on Malaysian soil. The Confrontation ended in August 1966.


  • Indonesian infiltrators surrendering to security forces in the Sungai Kerang area in Perak, Malaysia, in 1964. PHOTO: ST FILE

  • Past emergencies declared by Malaysia 

    Since the country's independence in 1957, Malaysia has seen the declaration of four emergencies.

    1964

    An emergency was called in 1964 nationwide during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, after Indonesian soldiers landed on Malaysian soil.

    1966

    The Sarawak Emergency was the first to be limited to one state. The proclamation was made in September 1966 following political squabbles in Sarawak linked to political moves to oust the incumbent chief minister, Datuk Stephen Kalong Ningkan.

    1969

    The third emergency was called nationwide due to the May 13 race riots. Racial clashes had taken place in Kuala Lumpur and by 8pm a curfew was declared. The riots continued on the next day, and the government declared a state of emergency on May 15.

    The Cabinet was replaced by the National Operations Council, which governed Malaysia in lieu of the elected government until 1971, when Parliament was restored.

    1977

    The fourth emergency was called in Kelantan, and was limited to one state. It was caused by a power struggle between Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

In September 1966, the Sarawak Emergency was declared, the first to be limited to one state. The proclamation followed squabbles in Sarawak linked to political moves to oust incumbent chief minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan. The crisis ended when his court appeal was rejected in August 1968.

The third emergency was called nationwide in 1969 due to the May 13 race riots. Racial clashes had taken place in Kuala Lumpur, and by 8pm, police declared a curfew, with soldiers and policemen deployed. The riots continued the next day, and the government declared a state of emergency on May 15 to prevent them from spreading to other parts of the country.

The Cabinet was replaced by the National Operations Council, which governed Malaysia in lieu of the elected government until 1971, when Parliament was restored.

Newspaper publications were suspended on May 15.

The fourth emergency was declared in November 1977 in Kelantan, and was limited to one state. It was caused by a power struggle between Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

Then Menteri Besar Mohamed Nasir had refused to resign, although he had lost the confidence of the PAS-led state assembly. The crisis ended in March 1978 with new state polls.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2020, with the headline 'Malaysians raise questions over 'emergency' rule'. Print Edition | Subscribe