King declares 8-month-long emergency . . .
At the behest of the country's prime minister, Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah has declared a countrywide state of emergency until August 1, only to be cut short if the COVID-19 situation is brought under control sooner. Malaysia has been reporting record-breaking daily case numbers over the last week, adding just over 3,300 new cases yesterday alone. There are now over 140,000 cumulative cases. Starting tomorrow, the government has announced that several states and federal territories will be subjected to a two-week Movement Control Order (MCO) with varying levels of restrictions depending on regional needs. Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, for example, will be implementing the strictest restrictions. While the MCO will limit people’s movements to just the essentials, businesses like restaurants and supermarkets will still operate but with reduced hours and without dine-in services. Interstate travel will also be heavily curtailed.
The real motives behind avoiding the ‘breaking point’ . . .
The Health Ministry and public health experts have been sounding the alarm on the latest wave, warning that Malaysia’s health system has reached a “breaking point.” Some experts also argue that new lockdowns are required to get numbers back under control, especially after the first MCO in March successfully reduced transmission rates. However, critics point out that the government could have responded to the exacerbated health crisis without initiating a state of emergency and have framed the move as an attempt by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his ruling coalition to cling to power under the guise of protecting the public’s health – especially since parliament is suspended and a long-rumoured snap election will be delayed for the duration of the emergency.
COVID lending political respite . . .
The ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition government has been edging closer to a hung parliament. The recent loss of two MPs diminished its already thin parliamentary majority to 111 MPs out of 220, meaning the current government lacks the numbers to pass legislation without working with the opposition. Meanwhile, internal coalition squabbling has further jeopardized the PM’s seat, with calls within the coalition for snap elections in March adding more instability. The state of emergency may give the embattled PM time to forge new parliamentary alliances and prove himself to the public if the new measures reduce the spread of COVID-19 as the government prepares for vaccination drives. But as it currently stands, the country’s path to a more solid political footing remains unclear.
- Malaysiakini: MCO 2.0 – what you can and can’t do this time
- Nikkei Asia: Malaysia COVID emergency measures ‘not a coup’, Muhyiddin says
- South China Morning Post: What Malaysia’s new coronavirus lockdown and state of emergency mean for the public, and for PM Muhyiddin