Talk of a state of emergency reaches fever pitch

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. -filepic

A HALF moon glowed from the night sky as the convoy of vehicles carrying the Prime Minister and other government figures emerged from the Istana Abdulaziz in Kuantan on Friday (Oct 23).

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s audience with the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong on Friday had lasted almost two hours amid feverish speculation that a state of emergency was about to be declared.

The expected announcement did not materialise but Opposition parties had begun blasting away at the government throughout the day.

There have been scant details about what the anticipated measure will involve and many out there appear to have fallen back on the last Emergency rule after the 1969 race riots in the country, which left scars on an entire generation.

The proposed Emergency order this time around has to do with the alarming escalation of Covid-19 that is affecting the health and well-being of the people and hurting the economy.

Malaysia would not be the first to go down this road because of the pandemic. According to The Rakyat Post, the Centre for Civil and Political Rights has identified 62 countries that have declared various degrees of emergency to deal with the pandemic.

Information trickling from the special Cabinet meeting on Friday suggested that the emergency order being considered would involve the suspension of Parliament and any would-be elections during the emergency period.

It is also learnt that there might be a national consultative council set up comprising key government figures and members from both sides of the political divide.

However, the Cabinet and government would carry on with the business of government and administration.

If the emergency order goes through, it means that the national Budget scheduled to be tabled next month will not have to go through Parliament to be passed.

It also means that Muhyiddin’s government will not have to face the test of numbers.

The proposed move is bound to be perceived as authoritarian and undemocratic, especially if it impacts the role of Parliament.

The government will need to communicate the necessity for such a drastic move in an effective and convincing manner.

It will not be popular and there has already been a barrage of criticism.

The Opposition is angry and jumping and Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was among the first to express his concern, calling the impending move an “abuse of power” and accusing the ruling coalition of being afraid to test its support in Parliament.

Political commentator Dr Azmi Omar, despite his positive opinion of Muhyiddin, found it to be an “overkill”.

“I know that people are tired of the non-stop politicking. They say that less politics is better in tackling Covid-19. But going for an emergency is too drastic for me, ” said Dr Azmi.

However, former Kapar Umno division chief Datuk Faizal Abdullah said the measure will bring down the political temperature so that the government can focus on tackling the health crisis and economy.

“Our politics has been like a non-stop action thriller. That kind of thing is okay in a movie but it’s bad for a country fighting the pandemic, ” said Faizal.

Speculation that the Prime Minister was about to embark on something important began almost as soon as a circular went out for ministers to attend a special Cabinet meeting on Friday morning.

The ministers knew this would be a meeting like no other when they saw that among those invited for the meeting were the Armed Forces Chief, the Inspector-General of Police and the Attorney General.

It is learnt that the Prime Minister insisted on hearing from everyone around the table. Many questions were directed at Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun and it fell on him to explain the legal and constitutional implications of the proposed move.

The meeting concluded with an all-round agreement for the Prime Minister to seek an audience to brief the King.

Some of the criticism that has been directed at Muhyiddin was that his coalition is resorting to an emergency order to avoid a general election.

This could not be further from the truth. Muhyiddin is said to have set his mind to call for an early general election after the Sabah election.

However, it would be irresponsible to call for a snap general with the spike in Covid-19 cases that has stretched health services in Sabah to breaking point.

“I am disappointed the government is taking this (emergency) path but I can see now that Muhyiddin has been underestimated throughout his political career. He has this survival instinct, ” said lawyer and columnist Ivanpal S. Grewal.

Muhyiddin has out-manoeuvred Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, pulled the rug from under Anwar’s feet and refused to bow to threats from Umno.

Not many people know it, but he has been steadfast in refusing to meddle in the cases of Umno leaders facing corruption charges in court.

Muhyiddin’s high approval rating in the early stage of his administration was largely due to his handling of the pandemic and the economic measures implemented to ease the people’s hardship.

But the fierce resurgence of the virus is hurting people and business and has dented his government’s image.

His political fate and that of his administration rest on whether he can successfully tame the pandemic in the coming months.

But is the push towards emergency the way to do it?

The Cabinet’s decision to go for an emergency appears to be on hold for a while more while the nation holds its breath.

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