KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — As the discussion among the nation’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah and the Conference of Rulers on proposals mooted by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin approaches, legal practitioners and civil society activists expressed concern regarding the possibility of a national emergency following media reports on the matter.
Seven of Malaysia’s former Bar Presidents in a joint statement on Saturday (24 October) stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used to justify declaring a state of emergency, as the situation can be “appropriately battled” using existing laws.
“The effective measures undertaken to overcome the first wave earlier this year are a testament to the absence of any need for any declaration of Emergency,” said Zainur Zakaria, Kuthubul Zaman, Yeo Yang Poh, Ambiga Sreenevasan, Ragunath Kesavan, Christopher Leong and Steven Thiru.
A state of emergency, if sought for the purpose of gaining emergency powers, will “obviously be an unlawful design” that will “disenfranchise and deceive Malaysians” if left unchecked, they warned.
Former Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, in opposing the possibility of declaring a state of emergency at this point, said in a statement on Saturday that doing so would be unconstitutional.
He cited Article 150(1) of the Federal Constitution, which stipulates that the King may issue a Proclamation of Emergency if he is satisfied that a grave emergency that threatens national security, economic life or public order exists.
Noting that the above terms are defined in the Constitution, Thomas drew the distinction between a “grave” emergency and a crisis of a lesser degree.
“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.
“The true reason is that this Prime Minister is not confident that the Budget of his Minister of Finance will be passed by the Dewan Rakyat when voted upon in early December. That would result in a lack of confidence in his government. They must resign then,” he opined.
By seeking to declare a state of emergency just to remain in office, Thomas said, the Prime Minister’s “private interests are in conflict with his public duty”.
State of emergency may have adverse consequences to economy
The former A-G also questioned why Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Tengku Aziz, a former banker, did not advise the Prime Minister on “the grave consequences to the economy” in the event that an emergency is declared.
“The rating agencies will immediately down-grade our ratings, which means that borrowing costs will become more expensive and perhaps even more difficult.
“The share market will plunge, the Ringgit will plummet and business confidence shattered. All these predictable consequences would be self-inflicted solely to allow one man to remain Prime Minister,” Thomas said.
Youth-led movement for democratic reforms Undi 18 co-founder Tharma Pillai in a string of tweets on Saturday similarly cautioned against declaring a state of emergency at this stage, branding it “economic suicide”.
Tharma also referenced a statement made by former sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad managing director Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim.
Penulisan Tan Sri Sheriff (Bekas MD Khazanah) ni dapat memperjelaskan musibah besar yang akan berlaku pada ekonomi negara jika kita mengumumkan Darurat.
Korang ni ingat Darurat ni main2 ke? This is not a gencatan politik. This is economic suicide. pic.twitter.com/TRSQMoBICo
— Tharma Pillai (@TharmaPillai) October 24, 2020
Mohd Sheriff posited that Malays–from the rulers to “ordinary” ones–are greatly invested in their savings in funds created by government bodies or government-linked companies.
A state of emergency, he added, will affect the dividend income of pensioners from their Employers’ Provident Fund, Amanah Saham Bumiputera and Amanah Saham Nasional accounts.
“If the stock market collapses, they can’t pay good dividends to the account holders,” said Mohd Sheriff.
Addressing the Prime Minister, he said: “Tell frankly to the Rulers all the possible economic and social implications, not only on their own wealth but also on the savings of their rakyat [citizens].”
79 countries declared state of emergency to date
Switzerland-based NGO Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR) found that 79 countries worldwide have declared some form of state of emergency in handling the COVID-19 situation.
TOC accessed the database at 12.45 am on Sunday (25 October) and found that Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines made the list of states that have declared a state of emergency in the midst of the pandemic.
Indonesia’s emergency state–which is currently in effect until “an undefined date”, as noted by CCPR–was made under the Presidential Decree No. 11 of 2020. The state of emergency also entails the postponement of any elections in the republic.
Thailand’s emergency decree, which took effect from 26 March, was revoked on Thursday after it failed to quash a growing number of anti-government protests.
The Philippines’s emergency measure, made under the Presidential Proclamation 929, was originally slated to take effect until 24 June this year. However, it has been extended to 12 September next year.