What happens if an emergency is declared in Malaysia?

An emergency can be announced once the King is satisfied, based on the Prime Minister's advice, that a grave emergency exists.
An emergency can be announced once the King is satisfied, based on the Prime Minister's advice, that a grave emergency exists.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government is seeking to invoke emergency powers and is awaiting the King's consent to do so.

Here's a quick look at what is an emergency and why the government is making the move now:

What happens if an emergency is declared in Malaysia?

Parliament can be suspended during an emergency, while by-elections and the general election can be postponed. The federal government would be empowered to push through policies that it would normally not be able to.

Who can declare an emergency?

An emergency can be announced once the king is satisfied, based on the prime minister's advice, that a grave emergency exists. This could happen when the security, economy or public order in the nation is threatened.

What will this emergency entail?

The “economic emergency” that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is seeking will ensure that government spending to curb the Covid-19 pandemic is not jeopardised by political developments. 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 one following deadly racial riots in May 1969.

It remains to be seen what powers the government will exercise, but it is likely that only political processes will be suspended. Laws and expenditure will be approved directly by the executive.

Why is an emergency being considered now?

The government is currently battling a Covid-19 pandemic in Malaysia, with Sabah being the worst affected. The state recorded a spike in the number of cases following campaigning for state polls in September.

The Muhyiddin government is also facing an attempt by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to unseat it  with a claim that he has majority support in Parliament. Many Malaysians are said to be not keen on a general election during a Covid-19 crisis.  

There is a big question mark over whether Prime Minister Muhyiddin has enough support in Parliament. There are worries that a general election could be called even as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise, should his coalition collapse if he fails to pass next year’s Budget on Nov 6 due to a lack of support in Parliament.  

How many times has Malaysia been under an emergency before?

Four times.

The first one 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.

In September 1966, the government declared the Sarawak Emergency - the first to be limited to one state. 

The proclamation was made following political squabbles in Sarawak linked to moves to oust the chief minister, Datuk Stephen Kalong Ningkan. 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 broken out 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 the unrest 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 called in November 1977 in Kelantan during a power struggle between Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

The then-menteri besar Datuk Mohamed Nasir from PAS had refused to resign when ordered by his party, although he had lost the confidence of the PAS-led state assembly. The crisis ended in March 1978 with new state polls.

Newspaper publications were suspended on May 15 .