Malay Rulers to Meet Amid Reports of PM Seeking Emergency Declaration

Muzliza Mustafa and Noah Lee
Kuala Lumpur
2020-10-24
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201024-MY-king-1000.JPG Malaysia’s new king, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah, inspects an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Jan. 31, 2019.
Reuters

Malaysia’s king urged citizens to stay calm as the palace announced Saturday that he would meet with his fellow sultans to discuss proposals made to him by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, amid reports that the embattled government leader had asked the monarch to declare an emergency.

In a statement, the National Palace confirmed that King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah received Muyhiddin at the monarch’s residence in Kuantan, the capital of Pahang state, on Friday afternoon after the prime minister chaired a special cabinet meeting in Putrajaya in the morning.

The statement did not say outright whether Muhyiddin was seeking the king’s consent for a declaration of a state of emergency. The last emergency to be declared in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia was 51 years ago, when race riots broke out in 1969.

“In the one and a half-hour session, Al-Sultan Abdullah was presented with the proposals made during the Special Cabinet Meeting for His Highness’s consideration and approval for implementation,” the palace said, adding the king “understood the need for the government to keep going in its fight against the threat of COVID-19.”

Muhyiddin, an unelected prime minister who was appointed by the king after the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed over infighting eight months ago, is governing as the country faces a new wave of coronavirus infections. On Saturday, Malaysian health officials announced that a daily record of 1,228 new cases of the disease were confirmed within the previous 24 hours.

Muhyiddin’s government, meanwhile, is clinging to a razor-thin parliamentary majority as it also deals with deep economic fallout from the pandemic and political shakiness within his ruling alliance as well as a challenge to his power from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“His Royal Highness also expressed concern about public worries because of the latest development,” the statement from the palace went on to say without clarifying what it meant by “the latest development.”

“Because of that and following yesterday’s meeting, Al-Sultan Abdullah will be meeting with the Malay Rulers at the Istana Negara [National Palace] at the soonest to discuss and go through the proposals presented by Muhyiddin Yassin,” the palace said.

The statement was referring to fellow royals who sit on the Council of Rulers, a body of sultans and governors who represent Malaysia’s 13 states. It selects the king on a five-year, rotating basis.

“In relation to that, Al-Sultan Abdullah advises the people to remain calm, not panic, and be patient in facing the current situation while waiting for the decision on the proposals,” the statement added. “The people are also advised to not make any speculation that can raise confusion and worry as well as threatening the country’s peace and stability.”

News reports on Friday suggested that the special cabinet meeting convened by Muhyiddin and his meeting with the king were part of steps he was taking toward a declaration of an emergency, which could lead to parliament being suspended, because he is danger of losing a legislative vote on his proposed 2021 budget when it comes up for debate early next month.

A loss on his spending plan would count as a vote of no confidence in Muhyiddin that, in turn, could lead to a snap election, according to a report by the Reuters news agency.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin wears a protective mask as he arrives at a mosque in Putrajaya for prayers amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Aug. 28, 2020. [Reuters]
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin wears a protective mask as he arrives at a mosque in Putrajaya for prayers amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, Aug. 28, 2020. [Reuters]

On Friday morning, Muhyiddin presided over a special cabinet meeting that included the chiefs of the military and federal police and a representative of the National Security Council. Muhyiddin’s press secretary and other government officials declined to reveal details about what was discussed, and did not respond to queries from BenarNews on Saturday.

After the meeting, Muyhiddin travelled by car to Kuantan – a drive of up to two hours one-way – to meet with the king. The Prime Minister’s Office did not issue any statements about the day’s meetings after Muyhiddin returned from Kuantan on Friday night, nor did it issue any statements the next day.

According to a report in the Straits Times of Singapore, well informed sources told the newspaper that an “economic emergency” could be declared to ensure that Muhyiddin’s 2021 spending plan was not put into jeopardy amid an increasingly unstable political atmosphere.

“It will not be similar to the curfews and military presence we had after the 1969 race riots,” an unnamed source told the Straits Times. “Instead, normal life under the movement control order (MCO) will continue, without politics getting in the way of dealing with a health crisis.”

The movement control order refers to a lockdown imposed by the Malaysian government earlier this year to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A decision taken during the special cabinet session “to invoke emergency powers” was conveyed during a meeting of the National Security Council on Friday afternoon, the newspaper also reported, citing a senior ministerial aide.

Malaysia’s constitution stipulates that the king, on the prime minister’s advice, can declare a state of emergency, which could include the suspension of parliament, if the monarch is persuaded that a threat to national security, or economic life or public order in Malaysia exists.

Tommy Thomas, who served as attorney general in the previous government, issued a three-page statement on Saturday that strongly questioned the need for declaring a national emergency.

“A Proclamation of Emergency under Article 150 of the Federal Constitution has tremendous negative consequences on the nation’s body politic and the exercise of freedoms and liberties by our citizens,” Thomas said.

“It is difficult to find a single rational argument to support a case that there is a ‘grave emergency’ today in Malaysia for whatever reason,” he added.

Anwar: ‘Descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism’

Friday’s meetings took place two days after the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), an anchor party in the ruling Perikatan Nasional bloc, announced that it had declared a truce and canceled its threat from a week earlier, when it said it was considering withdrawing support for the coalition unless certain conditions were met. UMNO did not specify then what those conditions were but it pointed to political stability as a factor.

UMNO controls 39 seats in the 222-member parliament, and a pullout by the party would have caused Muhyiddin’s government to collapse.

UMNO’s threat of potentially dropping its support for Muhyiddin came after Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the opposition Parakatan Harapan alliance, met with the king on Oct. 13 to present documentation, which Anwar said, proved that he had a majority of lawmakers backing his bid to become prime minister.

However, Anwar did not give the king a list of names of lawmakers who support him, and he also declined to show reporters the list at a subsequent news conference.

On Friday, Anwar said he was deeply concerned that the government was “seeking to implement emergency measures to curb the parliamentary process.

He called on Muhyiddin to reconsider a move toward an emergency.

“A state of emergency is declared when there is a threat to our national security,” Anwar said in a statement. “But when the government is itself the source of that threat then a state of emergency is nothing more than the descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism.”

Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar’s former ally in the Pakatan Harapan government that was elected in 2018, also questioned the legitimacy of Muhyiddin’s government and reports that he was seeking an emergency proclamation.

This Government is not the Government elected by the people. It has come to power by undemocratic means. And now it is only concerned about staying in power,” Mahathir, a 95-year-old two-time prime minister, said in a Facebook post on Saturday.

“Faced with the possibility of being overthrown, the Prime Minister wants the powers under a state of Emergency. The only benefit would accrue to the Prime Minister, as Parliament would be paralyzed. He would claim that it is the wish of the Palace,” Mahathir said.

On the other side of the political divide, a minister in Muhyiddin’s government blamed Anwar for riling things up and helping bring the country to the brink of a possible emergency.

“Anwar has to realize that he has a hand that brought us to this tense moment. He went to the King and tried to convince His Highness that he has the majority support, and claimed that he has the numbers, enough documents,” Annuar Musa, the minister of Federal Territories told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

“We waited for it. But when he got an audience with the King, he did not hand even one name to the King. The list of names that he used, well, many have disputed it.”

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