The delay in meetings follows the opposition leader’s claim that he has enough support to become prime minister.
Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah will meet the country’s sultans to discuss proposals put forward by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the palace said on Saturday without elaborating on their content, amid reports that Muhyiddin wants to impose a state of emergency.
Muhyiddin met the king on Friday to present a proposal that would lead to the suspension of parliament, sources told the Reuters news agency. The potential move has been widely condemned by the country’s opposition politicians and greeted with alarm by Malaysians.
The king would meet the other rulers “soon”, Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, the Comptroller of the Royal Household, said in a statement. The prime minister’s office has not commented on the proposal.
Muhyiddin has faced questions over his support in the 222-seat parliament since he was appointed prime minister in March, and pressure has grown since the opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said last week he had secured the backing required to become prime minister.
Malaysia is also battling a sudden resurgence in the outbreak of COVID-19.
The country now has more than 24,000 cases of COVID-19, more than double the number a month ago. Upwards of 700 and 800 cases a day have been reported for the past week and on Friday the country recorded 10 deaths, the highest since the pandemic began.
Most have been in Sabah, where a state election took place on September 26, but the outbreak there has also helped seed clusters in the peninsula – a two-hour flight across the South China Sea – and Kuala Lumpur and Selangor – the country’s richest state – have been under a partial lockdown since October 14.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he was “deeply concerned” at the reports of an emergency.
“A state of emergency is declared when there is a threat to our national security,” he 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.”
Of course we’re all fed-up of politics. But even if they suspend Parliament and declare emergency, the politicking won’t stop. Because suspending Parliament IS a political move, NOT a public health one.
— Marina Mahathir (@netraKL) October 23, 2020
A pause from politicking… you mean a pause from democracy? It was a slippery slope and we’re now at the bottom of it. Congratulations
— Sharifah Hani Yasmin (@sharifahyasmiin) October 23, 2020
On Friday, Muhyiddin’s cabinet held a special meeting that included the chief of police and head of the armed forces. He then flew to the east coast for a two-hour audience with the king. Local media reported unnamed sources within the government saying an emergency was necessary because of “political instability” and the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an open letter, seven former presidents of the Malaysian Bar Council said Malaysia’s success in tackling earlier waves of the disease showed existing laws were sufficient.
“There is no violence, or threat to the security of our nation,” they wrote, urging the government to reconsider the situation.
“If the predominant objective of the suggested declaration is to suspend parliament, and to gain emergency powers then it will obviously be an unlawful design which, if unchecked, will disenfranchise and deceive Malaysians.”
The next session of Malaysia’s parliament is scheduled to begin on November 2, with the government facing its first test within days when the budget is presented on November 6.
A failure to pass the spending plans could be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the government and lead to a general election.
During the last session in July, Muhyiddin, who governs in a loose alliance with a number of ethnic Malay and Islamic parties, won the vote to replace the speaker by a majority of just two.
Multi-ethnic Malaysia was last governed under an emergency in 1969, after race riots in Kuala Lumpur left scores of people, most of then ethnic Chinese, dead.
Under the order, the constitution was suspended, parliament dissolved, and the functions of government moved under a National Operations Council. A curfew restored order to the streets, but the media was muzzled and prominent opposition politicians were arrested under provisions that allowed for indefinite detention.
Parliament reconvened in February 1971, and political life resumed, but the actual emergency ordinance was not fully repealed until 2013.