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Malaysia‘s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin arrives at a mosque in Putrajaya for prayers in August. Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus Malaysia: Muhyiddin said to ‘contemplate resignation’ after king rejects emergency plan

  • Sultan Abdullah’s decision quashes possibility that prime minister will suspend legislature and rule by decree
  • King warns politicians ‘to immediately stop all politicking that could disrupt the stability of the government’
Malaysia’s king on Sunday was lauded by citizens and government critics as he dismissed Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s plan for a state of emergency and urged warring politicians to find common ground amid soaring Covid-19 cases.

Muhyiddin, who had been accused by the opposition of using the latest wave of coronavirus cases as an excuse to suspend parliament and insulate his turmoil-wracked government from being ousted, in a late evening statement acknowledged the decision by Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah but did not offer a clear indication of his next move.

Local news portal The Vibes quoted government sources as saying the prime minister is considering resigning.

Sultan Abdullah’s public remarks following a meeting with the heads of eight of the country’s nine royal households – who make up the country’s Conference of Rulers and take turns to be king every five years – in effect quash the likelihood that Muhyiddin will suspend the legislature and rule by decree indefinitely.
The National Palace is seen in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Sunday. Photo: AP
Muhyiddin has not publicly stated that he is seeking a state of emergency, but commentators and critics had suggested this was his intention after he called an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Friday and sought the audience of Sultan Abdullah, the country’s constitutional monarch.

A statement released by the Comptroller of the Royal Household, Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, said the prime minister had in fact sought an emergency declaration.

His Majesty would like to remind politicians to immediately stop all politicking that could disrupt the stability of the government,” Ahmad Fadil said in the statement.

“After considering the [emergency] request and discussing with the Malay rulers as well as taking into account the situation in the country, Sultan Abdullah feels that the government has done well in handling the pandemic effectively.

“Sultan Abdullah is of the opinion that, for the time being, there is no need for his majesty to declare a state of emergency in the country or any parts thereof,” Ahmad Fadil added.

Is Malaysia’s king taking sides in the current political turmoil?

In a separate statement, the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal – an official who serves all the hereditary Malay monarchs – said the eight sultans present at the meeting were “of the view that it was important to respect the mechanism of check and balance between all branches of the government and also the [king’s] role to balance various demands in ensuring justice and curtailing any elements of abuse of power”.

The Malay word for “curtailing” was highlighted in red, with the rest of the two-page statement printed in black.

Ahmad Fadil’s statement on behalf of Sultan Abdullah – released soon after the end of the Malay sultans’ meeting – drew immediate praise from Malaysians on social media, with many posting messages on Twitter and Facebook with the phrase “Daulat Tuanku”, or Long Live the King.

M. Kula Segaran, a veteran member of the opposition Democratic Action Party, wrote on Twitter: “Thank you for always being the people‘s King and doing what’s best for the nation.”

“A decision that comes as a relief to all Malaysians. Let‘s put aside politics and work to curb the spread of #Covid-19 and focus on nationbuilding,” he wrote.

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah waves as he leaves National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. Photo: AP

Questions meanwhile swirled around Muhyiddin’s next move. Some legal experts suggested the ultimate power to call an emergency rested with the prime minister, as the constitution stipulates that the monarch must act on the advice of the executive.

Lawyer New Sin Yew said the palace statement indicated that Muhyiddin had merely presented the king with a proposal rather than advice.

“The ball is now in [Muhyiddin’s] court. He could either persist with the proposal and advise the king to issue a Proclamation of Emergency, which I assume would be politically suicidal, or he could accept the king’s warning, which the king would be justified in making,” he said.

Muhyiddin in a three-paragraph statement acknowledged the views of the king, adding that his cabinet would further discuss the monarch’s advice to prioritise the Covid-19 pandemic. “I welcome the king’s call for the stability of the government to be safeguarded and not threatened,” he said.

The 73-year-old prime minister, who came to power in March following a messy power struggle that ousted the then-ruling Pakatan Harapan alliance, has cancelled a previously scheduled meeting on Monday morning with all state chief ministers. Several ministers and senior civil servants were spotted leaving his private residence in Kuala Lumpur late on Sunday.

The Vibes quoted one member of Muhyiddin's party as saying “he [Muhyiddin] wants to do the right thing and resign, but is asked to stay on by [Senior Minister Azmin Ali] and others”.

Another source said there “was also the question as to whether he has the numbers to support him in parliament”. The source said: “This, compounded by the decision of the [king], makes him feel unable to carry out his duties as prime minister.”

Muhyiddin’s parliamentary majority is fragile, and commentators for weeks have suggested his budget proposal for 2021 – to be put up for consideration on November 6 – could be defeated, signalling a collapse in legislative support for his administration.

The proposal for a national emergency was seen by the opposition as an underhanded means to stave off such an outcome.   Ahmad Fadil’s statement noted that the budget was of paramount importance, but he also praised Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional government for successfully dealing with the coronavirus epidemic – something he said it would continue to do.

Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance, had in September declared he was seeking to topple Muhyiddin by inducing government MPs to back him as the next prime minister.

Malaysia’s Anwar cries foul as PM said to eye bid for emergency powers

The situation had appeared to have been defused last week, as the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) – a key component of the ruling alliance – unilaterally declared a “political ceasefire”. The party, which ruled Malaysia from 1957 to 2018 and remains its biggest political organisation, had been eyeing cooperation with Anwar.

The opposition leader in a late-night statement joined his allies in praising Sultan Abdullah. He acknowledged the monarch’s call for politicians to refrain from excessive politicking and said his focus would be on efforts to quell the public health crisis, deal with rising unemployment and vitalise the economy.

The political machinations have come as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the Southeast Asian country, hitting a new daily high of 1,228 on Saturday before dropping to 823 on Sunday.

This latest wave of cases – far surpassing the daily tallies seen in early March that triggered a nationwide lockdown – has been widely attributed to the lack of physical distancing measures carried out by politicians during campaigning ahead of polls in the state of Sabah on September 26.