KUALA LUMPUR - The move by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to resort to emergency powers to contain the spread of Covid-19 has been sharply criticised in some quarters.
Former premier Mahathir Mohamad said it was unnecessary.
"Even without an emergency, the government has enough powers to manage the Covid-19 situation. 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 on Tuesday (Jan 12) by The Star Online.
"What is it that the government cannot do without declaring an emergency?" he added.
Umno MP Nazri Aziz, who withdrew his support from the Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact just hours after the declaration, said 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," Datuk Seri Nazri told reporters on Tuesday.
Mr Nazri's decision to pull out from the PN means that Mr Muhyiddin has effectively lost his majority in Parliament because another Umno lawmaker did so on Saturday. The decision by the two MPs means Mr Muhyiddin now has the backing of only 109 lawmakers in the 220-seat parliament.
Earlier on Tuesday, King Abdullah Ahmad Shah consented to the Prime Minister's request for an emergency order to deal with the worsening Covid-19 situation.
Mr Muhyiddin, in a special nationwide address after the King's proclamation, provided details on what the emergency entails, including 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 re-imposition of the strict movement control order (MCO), which bars all non-essential activity and inter-district travel, on five states and all three federal territories.
The beleaguered Prime Minister, whose parliamentary majority looked increasingly tenuous recent days, had also requested 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, who questioned its economic impact.
"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," Subang MP Wong Chen from the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) said in a Facebook post.
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 currently trending, with over 155,000 and 177,000 tweets, respectively.
User @suetmei said: "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. Booms. Darurat. Parliament is suspended. It's political." The post has been retweeted 2,776 times.
While most expressed their unhappiness, one 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 doesn't have an idea of what they want." This was retweeted 6,029 times.
Many in the Muhyiddin administration have yet to react to the declaration but the president of Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which is part of the PN pact, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, 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 on Tuesday.
Some members of the public too appeared to have given the government the benefit of the doubt.
Calling it "high time", former civil servant Radzi Zaini said the country's political turmoil should have been put to rest, or "on hold", months ago to allow the government to focus on the national crises instead.
"We are exhausted from all this unnecessary power tussle among them, so I'm glad that the King consented to declare an emergency.
"We didn't have to go this far but things wouldn't have been this bad if these politicians had behaved themselves and focused on what matters the most," the 65-year-old said.
He was referring to the rising number of daily Covid-19 cases, which has averaged about 2,000 in recent weeks. It hit a record 3,309 cases on Tuesday.