Malaysia declares virus emergency, sparking anger

Kuala Lumpur | Tue, January 12, 2021 | 09:23 pm

On Tuesday, Malaysia’s king declared a nationwide state of emergency to combat a coronavirus surge that is overwhelming hospitals, but critics claimed it was an attempt to cling to power by an unstable government. The announcement came a day after the Prime Minister introduced sweeping new barriers across much of the Southeast Asian nation, including the closure of most businesses, and warned that the health system was “at breaking point” Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah agreed to declare an emergency until 1 August following a request made by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at a meeting on Monday, the National Palace said in a statement.

Muhyiddin said in a televised address that parliament would be suspended and elections would not take place, with the king willing, if necessary, to enact new laws. “the civilian government will continue to function”the civil government will continue to function. “The emergency declaration… is not a military coup and a curfew will not be enforced,” he said. He maintained that, once the country’s outbreak was brought under control, he was committed to holding a general election.

The announcement came after the main coalition allies of Muhyiddin threatened to withdraw support, which could have led to the government’s fall and snap national polls that some believed would make the outbreak worse. For most of last year, Malaysia kept the virus in check with a stern lockdown, but when curbs were eased, cases escalated and have repeatedly hit new records in recent days. As well as suspending political life, as government facilities become overrun, the declaration gives the government powers to take over private hospitals and get extra support from the military and police, Muhyiddin said.

When the rate of infection slows, the emergency may be lifted sooner. More than 138,000 virus cases and 555 deaths have been recorded in the world. Last year, an election in Sabah state was blamed for causing a new wave of infections that spread nationwide. Critics, however, raised fears that the declaration was a gambit for Muhyiddin to cling to power that could erode civil liberties.

Josef Benedict tweeted from Civicus, a global coalition of civil society organizations and activists, “The declaration of a state of emergency seems like another attempt by Muhyiddin to hold on to power, block elections and to remove parliamentary oversight, rather than to seriously address the pandemic,” Marina Mahathir, an activist and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s daughter, tweeted that a state of emergency was a “declaration of failure” She wrote,

“Failure to manage the pandemic, failure to govern, failure to care about the people,”

First, in October, Muhyiddin attempted to convince the king to declare an emergency, but was rebuffed. In reaction to violent racial protests, the last time an emergency was declared nationwide was in 1969. Since March last year, when Muhyiddin came to power without an election after the resignation of Mahathir and the fall of his reformist government, Malaysia has been in political turmoil.

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