Malaysia’s king Sunday rejected a proposal by the premier to declare a state of emergency and suspend parliament to fight the coronavirus after the plan sparked a massive backlash.

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin sought the drastic measures following a recent spike in virus cases, but critics claimed he was mainly concerned with crushing mounting challenges to his leadership.

Muhyiddin seized power without a vote in March after a reformist government collapsed but his administration is unstable, with only a wafer-thin majority in parliament.

His government argued emergency powers would bring stability to fight Covid-19 amid speculation they will lose a looming vote on the budget, which could prompt snap polls some fear could worsen the outbreak.

Under the constitution, the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, has the power to declare a state of emergency if he is persuaded there is a grave threat to Malaysia’s security.

But following a meeting of Malaysia’s Islamic royalty, the palace said the monarch was “of the view that there is no need at this moment for the king to declare a state of emergency in the country or in any part of Malaysia”.

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Such a declaration, rarely used in Malaysia, would have led to parliament effectively being suspended, and Muhyiddin could have pushed through any law without a vote.

Despite rejecting his request, the king praised the government’s handling of the outbreak and urged lawmakers to “stop politicking that could destabilise the country”, according to the palace statement.

Muhyiddin’s move had sparked a firestorm of criticism across the political spectrum.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who recently launched a bid to seize power, had accused the leader of “resorting to undemocratic means to stay in power” and warned the country could descend “into dictatorship and authoritarianism”.

Oh Ei Sun, an analyst from the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said the royals had taken note of the “overwhelming, mounting popular discontent” when rejecting Muhyiddin’s request.

“The refusal certainly dents Muhyiddin’s political mileage.”


© Agence France-Presse