KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's proposal to invoke an emergency rule in Malaysia to rein in a spike in coronavirus cases has been met with frosty response from political rivals and allies as well as civil society leaders, who branded the move disproportionate and unjustified.
The Malaysian King will be meeting his fellow rulers among the nine royal households on Sunday (Oct 25) to decide on PM Muhyiddin's proposal.
The power play is happening even as Malaysia has been experiencing an exponential surge in Covid-19 cases since late September, following the Sabah state elections. Around one third of the country's population is currently subjected to partial lockdowns in efforts to deal with the spike in cases.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday (Oct 24) that there is no breakdown of law and order in Malaysia to justify an emergency.
"Countries with more severe Covid-19 problems have not declared emergency for the whole country but only for affected areas," said Tun Dr Mahathir, a two-time premier and Tan Sri Muhyiddin's immediate predecessor.
Dr Mahathir claimed that the government's move was an attempt to deal with the political situation in the country.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin's majority in Parliament remains in doubt, and it remains to be seen if his government's budget could win a Parliamentary vote when it is tabled in November.
The Prime Minister was also the subject of a push from several lawmakers to have a no-confidence motion tabled in Parliament, including one from his own Perikatan Nasional coalition.
Former Cabinet minister Rafidah Aziz said declaring an emergency now would be tantamount to “killing a few rats using a bomb".
She said in a Facebook post Saturday: “Already the economic and socio-economic impact on the people and nation is continuing to drain us all of our resilience and confidence. But to declare an emergency, impacting Parliament, the democratic processes and dispensing with democratic norms — that is too much.”
Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan, deputy president of Umno, a party in the ruling coalition, said the government should use democratic and scientific means to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
“Handle this crisis by upholding the constitution, by allowing democracy to function, streamline the response of the public health and safety system, and prioritise the interests of ordinary people by not adding to their misery,” he said in a Facebook posting on Saturday.
Opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) called on PM Muhyiddin not to use the emergency to "save his political career".
Other opposition parties, such as Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara, also joined in criticising the move.
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said on Saturday that the King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, is Malaysians' "last hope" in averting an emergency proclamation that he said was designed "to save" Mr Muhyiddin.
Mr Lim's party colleague Mr Liew Chin Tong said the government does not need to call for an emergency just to avoid its Budget 2021 bill from failing.
"If the government wants to pass a Bill while not having the majority to do so, it can send the Bill to a bipartisan Parliamentary committee to get views from the opposition," Mr Liew, a former deputy minister, said.
A poll conducted by USCI Poll Research Centre last week found that a vast majority of respondents to a survey wanted the government to undertake bipartisan engagement to overcome the Covid-19 crisis.
Of the 1,166 respondents, 75.9 per cent said that the government should form a joint committee with the previous Pakatan Harapan government to combat the pandemic.
Civil society groups were similarly critical of the move.
Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 criticised the move as an "overkill" in a statement on Friday, but at the same time urged the Opposition to back any Budget bill in Parliament to ensure Mr Muhyiddin's Budget does not fail.
A group of lawyers consisting of former Bar presidents urged Malaysia's political leaders to re-think the move, saying that it would be a "nightmarish" error that plunge Malaysia into one of its "darkest" days.
"If the predominant objective of the suggested declaration is to suspend Parliament, and to gain Emergency Powers; then it will obviously be an unlawful design which, if unchecked, will disenfranchise and deceive Malaysians," said the statement signed by seven former Bar presidents. Malaysia last declared a national emergency 51 years ago in May 1969 following deadly race riots.
The group also warned that such a declaration can be challenged in court, as Covid-19 is a health issue and not a security issue. Former Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said that Mr Muhyiddin's personal interest to secure his position is in conflict with his public duty in this particular instance.
The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) warned that an emergency proclamation will hamper business sentiments and affect the government's accountability.
“It is important now more than ever that parliamentary democracy and the rule of law are upheld, to ensure that the necessary checks and balances remain. It is hoped that our country’s leaders will respect our system of parliamentary democracy and seek an alternative solution instead of invoking Article 150 of the Federal Constitution, which could lead to unnecessary panic," IDEAS CEO Tricia Yeoh said in a statement on Saturday.
Various hashtags rejecting the proposed emergency proclamation has been trending in Malaysia's Twitter platform since late on Friday, reaching No 1 on trends multiple times.
Among these were #BantahDarurat (Object emergency), #ProtesDarurat (Protest emergency), and also #MuhyiddinOut, calling for the resignation of Mr Muhyiddin.
"This is like bringing a chainsaw to the operating table, and trying to justify that it saves lives," a Twitter user by the handle Kelvin Yii posted.
"No confidence- resign. There is no need for an emergency," Twitter user Zizi Han posted.