Declaring a state of emergency “removes the last vestige of democratic rights” for the people of Malaysia, says Malaysia’s former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
In a blog post earlier this week on Monday (18 January), Dr Mahathir said that the state of emergency declared on the grounds of the COVID-19 health crisis is actually an “excuse” for the present government to seize complete powers.
Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah assented to the state of emergency on 11 January.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who addressed the nation later the same day, said that the state of emergency declared by the King is “not a military coup”.
A curfew will not be enforced, and “a civilian government will continue to function”, he added.
The country will be governed in line with the Federal Constitution and several state of emergency ordinances.
This includes the authority to utilise private healthcare institutions, facilities and infrastructure for the purpose of treating COVID-19 patients, particularly in light of the overcapacity of public healthcare facilities at present.
During the state of emergency, Parliament will not be in session and will be suspended until consented to by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. No elections, whether general election or by-elections, will be held during the period.
The courts will carry out their duties as usual during the state of emergency.
“The judiciary will continue to be the beacon of justice in our country, and I would never interfere with the business of the courts,” said Muhyiddin.
Dr Mahathir in his post on Monday said that while the “intention is good” — that is, to curb greater spread of COVID-19 in Malaysia — when “absolute authority is given, breaches and abuses will happen”.
“My view is that emergency powers are not necessary in dealing with the pandemic. The Government has ample power and Malaysians have obeyed whatever orders or directives issued by the Government in dealing with COVID-19. They raise no objection.
“We are not like liberal western countries where the people openly disobeyed Government directives claiming that their rights and freedoms have been ignored,” he said.
The proclamation, warned Dr Mahathir, the “minority” Government has “now gained absolute power to rule” under Article 11 of the Emergency Ordinance 2021, which was deemed to have come into effect on Monday.
Article 11 grants the Prime Minister and Cabinet that were already in power before the state of emergency continuous power to govern, including power to suspend Parliamentary sessions and disabling the dissolution of Parliament during the period.
“Clearly, with the proclamation of a state of emergency, the Parliament elected by the people has lost its role in the governance of this country. The Prime Minister now has full authority to rule the country on his own,” said Dr Mahathir.
On top of that, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet “cannot be questioned”, as all of the actions that are taking place “is done is in the name of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong”.
Dubbing the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government as a “backdoor” one, the nonagenarian said that PN has lost its majority and therefore the right to rule Malaysia.
In Malaysia, ‘Langkah Sheraton’ or ‘Sheraton Move’ saw Muhyiddin taking the mantle of Prime Minister from Dr Mahathir following a power vacuum left by the latter’s resignation from the post. The event also catalysed the collapse of the PH government.
However, many criticised Muhyiddin’s appointment. The hashtag #NotMyPM topped Twitter trends at the time.
The ‘Sheraton Move’ derived its name from the Petaling Jaya hotel in which a meeting among leaders from the Malay-centric Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia — which is now led by Muhyiddin — and PKR attempting to form an alliance with Umno and other parties in a bid to establish a new government.
PH had earlier wrested power from Najib Razak’s BN administration in 2018, particularly after the former premier became mired in controversy over his alleged abuse of state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, among others. BN governed Malaysia for 61 years since the nation’s independence prior to the 2018 general election.
The political imbroglio continued when UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced on 30 July last year that the party will not be a part of PN but will continue to support the current ruling government.