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Malaysian premier seeks a state of emergency amid political crisis

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin wearing a protective mask arrives at a mosque for prayers, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Putrajaya
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin wearing a protective mask arrives at a mosque for prayers, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Putrajaya

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin met the king on Friday to ask him to declare a state of emergency, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said, a move that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim denounced as an attempt to cling to power.

The emergency proposal comes as Malaysia sees a resurgence in coronavirus cases and as Muhyiddin faces a leadership challenge from Anwar, who last month said he has the support in parliament to oust the premier.

WHAT'S NEXT?

King Al-Sultan Abdullah will decide if an emergency should be declared after consulting with other Malay rulers.

Under Malaysia's constitution, the proclamation of emergency is made by the king if he is satisfied a grave emergency exists whereby the security, the economy or public order is threatened.

"Context-wise, the COVID-19 situation and the political crisis would arguably fit within these categories, at least based on the government's interpretation," said Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, senior associate with political and policy risk consultancy Vriens & Partners.

A state of emergency would allow parliament to be suspended while the executive would gain powers to make rules and approve the expenditure necessary to ensure public security.

Malaysia last declared a national emergency after civil unrest and bloody race riots broke out in 1969.

WHY NOW?

Opposition leaders, including Anwar, say Muhyiddin is proposing an emergency to avoid a showdown in parliament over the support he commands.

Questions have persisted over the stability of Muhyiddin's coalition since he took office in March with a two-seat majority.

Pressure increased last month after Anwar said he had enough support in parliament to form a new government with the help of defectors from the ruling coalition.

UMNO, the biggest party in the ruling coalition, has also been unhappy with the premier as it believes it is playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin's own party.

The government is scheduled to propose its 2021 budget on Nov. 6, and there have been doubts over whether it can muster a majority in parliament for that.

Defeat on the budget would count as a vote of no-confidence in Muhyiddin and could trigger an election.

Under Muhyiddin's proposed emergency, parliament will be suspended and the budget will not be put to vote.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BUDGET?

It remains unclear.

According to the constitution, the king can essentially introduce laws - called ordinances - during an emergency on the advice of the prime minister and cabinet.

The budget could be approved, similarly, without a parliamentary vote.

The Edge financial daily cited a source saying the 2021 budget would still be announced under an emergency and a suspension of parliament meant the budget can be approved without a vote.

IS A CHANGE IN GOVERNMENT POSSIBLE?

If an emergency is put in place, Muhyiddin can continue unopposed for as long as it lasts.

Some in the ruling alliance have urged Muhyiddin to go for a general election to resolve the uncertainty over his majority, but there are also concerns about holding an election during a pandemic.

Polls could be held at the end of the emergency, though it is not clear if or how long an emergency would last.

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi, Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)