Coronavirus Malaysia

Political warfare intensifies in face of emergency order

Opposition, political rivals and netizens question need for move amid worries about its economic impact

The emergency declaration came a day after the re-imposition of the strict movement control order.
The emergency declaration came a day after the re-imposition of the strict movement control order.PHOTO: REUTERS

The move by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to invoke emergency powers to contain the spread of Covid-19 has sparked strong reactions from Malaysia's politicians, with former premier Mahathir Mohamad saying it was unnecessary and Umno MP Nazri Aziz withdrawing his support for the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact.

Tun Dr Mahathir said the government already has enough powers to manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

"When you tell Malaysians to go into lockdown, they will go into lockdown. Tell them not to move, they won't move. Tell them to stay at home, they will stay at home," he was quoted as saying yesterday by The Star Online.

"What is it that the government cannot do without declaring an emergency?" he added.

Meanwhile, Datuk Seri Nazri withdrew his support from PN just hours after the declaration, saying that seeking an emergency was an admission of defeat.

"For me, when he (Tan Sri Muhyiddin) applied for the emergency, it means he admitted he has lost and no longer enjoys majority support. It's logical for him to ask for an emergency," Mr Nazri told reporters yesterday.

Mr Nazri pointed out that with his withdrawal, Mr Muhyiddin now has the backing of only 109 MPs in Parliament, making it a minority government.

Mr Nazri is the second Umno MP in three days to pull his support for Mr Muhyiddin, after Machang MP Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub did so last Saturday.

Umno, the biggest among the parties that form the PN coalition, was set to discuss severing ties with Mr Muhyiddin's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia at a general assembly on Jan 31. Three-quarters of the party's divisions had resolved last week to cut ties with Bersatu.

Mr Nazri, a senior MP from Padang Rengas ward in Perak, said: "I am not calling for an immediate election, I want to make that clear. But what is important here is that the government has fallen.

"In the coming days, there might be more (MPs withdrawing support)."

  • State of emergency: Key details

  • KUALA LUMPUR • A state of emergency has been declared in Malaysia to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some key details:

    • Effective from Jan 11 to Aug 1. Can be lifted earlier if an independent committee recommends that the pandemic is under control.

    • Civilian government remains in place. No military rule.

    • No curfews.

    • No parliamentary or state assembly sittings. No elections.

    • Cabinet, state executive councils and public services continue to function.

    • Economic activities to continue as usual, subject to health protocols.

    • The King can make decrees under emergency, such as ordering the government to take over private healthcare facilities to relieve strain on public hospitals.

    MALAYSIA'S PAST EMERGENCIES

    • September 1964, during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation.

    • September 1966, covering Sarawak, after political squabbles in the state.

    • May 15, 1969, after deadly race riots on May 13. Policemen and soldiers were deployed, and curfews imposed.

    • November 1977, in Kelantan, during a power struggle between political parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

    Nadirah H.Rodzi

Earlier yesterday, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah consented to the Prime Minister's request for an emergency order to deal with the worsening Covid-19 situation.

The third wave of infections shows little sign of abating, with daily cases averaging above 2,000 in the past week.

Yesterday's new infections spiked at 3,309 cases, the highest since cases first began to appear in the country.

Many in the Muhyiddin administration have yet to react to yesterday's declaration, but Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia, which is part of the PN pact, said the move was justified as the well-being of the public should be prioritised.

"Our focus now is to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic and help those who are affected by it," he said on Facebook yesterday.

Mr Muhyiddin, in a special nationwide address after the King's proclamation, provided details on what the emergency entailed.

These included the suspension of parliamentary and state assembly sittings for the duration of the emergency, which is set to last until Aug 1.

The emergency declaration came a day after the reimposition of the strict movement control order (MCO) - which bars all non-essential activity and inter-district travel - in five states and all three federal territories.

The beleaguered Prime Minister, whose parliamentary majority looked increasingly tenuous in recent days, had also requested for an emergency declaration to tackle the pandemic in October last year, a move denounced by his political rivals who said that it was aimed at suspending Parliament to avoid an election.

The latest declaration has also been criticised by the opposition parties, who are worried about its economic impact.

Subang MP Wong Chen from the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) said in a Facebook post: "Most, if not all of us, have been caught completely off guard by this extraordinary measure. Yesterday's MCO announcement was already a necessary punch to the stomach for the economy, but this new announcement is not going to help."

Tanjong Malim MP Chang Lih Kang, who is also from the PKR, called for Mr Muhyiddin's resignation.

"Muhyiddin should resign for exposing our country to greater economic risk," he said in a tweet with the hashtag #LeaveGracefully attached.

On Twitter, the hashtags #darurat (emergency) and #emergency are trending, with over 155,000 and 177,000 tweets, respectively.

User @suetmei said of Mr Muhyiddin: "He doesn't have the majority support of MPs. He can't stand Umno pressuring for elections. He can't risk a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

"He wants to stay in power. Boom. Darurat. Parliament is suspended. It's political."

While most expressed their unhappiness, user @lriltwt said: "(Declaring) emergency is wrong, (not declaring) emergency is wrong. Don't want general elections but don't want the government to stay.

"Don't want MCO but don't observe the SOP. I'm starting to think that the people in this country don't have an idea of what they want." This was retweeted over 6,000 times.

Meanwhile, a group of concerned lawyers and citizens have said they are exploring legal avenues to dispute the emergency order.

According to the Malay Mail, PKR lawmaker and Selayang MP William Leong said the group was studying the declaration and will announce further details once they are ready to launch legal action.

Mr Leong stressed that it was not aimed at challenging the King's authority to issue the proclamation, but rather the advice upon which he acted.

"We are looking to see who gave bad advice to the Prime Minister in making the emergency proclamation," he told the Malay Mail.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2021, with the headline 'Political warfare intensifies in face of emergency order'. Print Edition | Subscribe