KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia was thrown into political turmoil on Friday (Oct 24) after Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin met the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, to discuss imposing emergency measures, but a much anticipated announcement of the move failed to materialise.
This sparked speculation that Tan Sri Muhyiddin might make the announcement at the weekend, ahead of the opening of markets on Monday.
The move appears to be aimed at ensuring that the upcoming vote in Parliament on the Budget does not result in snap elections if it fails to pass. The government is also trying to buy time to deal with the surging outbreak of Covid-19 in parts of the country.
The constitutional monarch's consent is needed to invoke emergency powers.
Mr Muhyiddin spent more than two hours with the monarch at his palace in Kuantan, Pahang, but did not make any announcement on the measures. It is understood that the King will first consult with the country's eight other state rulers before arriving at a decision.
Mr Muhyiddin had on Friday morning chaired a special Cabinet meeting in Putrajaya to decide on the emergency measures.
He holds a slim majority in Parliament and failure to pass the Budget would be tantamount to a no-confidence vote in his government and could trigger a snap poll. Observers have said holding a general election amid Malaysia's resurgent wave of coronavirus infections could prove disastrous.
Sources with knowledge of these discussions told The Straits Times that an "economic emergency" could be proclaimed to ensure that government spending to curb Covid-19 - which has seen total cases doubling this month alone - is not jeopardised by an increasingly unstable political atmosphere.
"It will not be similar to the curfews and military presence we had after the 1969 race riots.
"Instead, normal life under the movement control order (MCO) will continue, without politics getting in the way of dealing with a health crisis," said one source on the condition of anonymity as the matters are official government secrets.
A top ministerial aide told ST that the Cabinet's decision to invoke emergency powers was brought to the National Security Council meeting on Friday afternoon.
"The special Cabinet meeting was to ensure we have a Budget 2021 that can be implemented. We have to wait for the PM's audience with the King," he said, refusing to comment further on the agenda.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, who recently claimed that he has sufficient support in Parliament to form a new government, criticised the plan, saying Mr Muhyiddin's administration was using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to justify its abuse of power.
"The government has failed to provide strong leadership in handling this crisis and is instead resorting to undemocratic means to stay in power," said Datuk Seri Anwar in a statement on Friday.
The special Cabinet meeting on Friday morning was attended by the Armed Forces chief, Inspector-General of Police and Attorney-General.
ST understands that they were consulted earlier in the week after high-level meetings saw health officials vehemently put forward their case to ensure that national elections do not happen until the outbreak is contained.
The polls in the state of Sabah last month - which were held even as new infection clusters emerged there - were a key factor in Malaysia recording unprecedented numbers of new cases this month.
The country has seen over 800 daily new infections reported several times this week, far more than previous highs of just over 200.
Election Commission chief Abdul Ghani Salleh also said on Oct 13 that "in light of the outbreak, we urge, if possible, that no election be held during this period".
The Federal Constitution allows for an emergency to be called under Article 150, with the consent of the King.
ST understands that several state rulers - nine monarchs who take turns as Malaysia's king every five years - have been made aware of the possibility of special powers being conferred on PM Muhyiddin's government.