Malaysia’s King Rejects Government Bid for Emergency Rule
Malaysia’s king on Sunday rejected Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s request to declare a state of emergency to tackle the pandemic, capping a tense weekend that saw opposition leaders criticize the proposal as an attempt by the premier to retain control amid a power struggle.
The government has been handling the coronavirus crisis well, the palace said in a statement after the monarch’s meeting with the nation’s other royals. The king also asked lawmakers to stop politicking that could affect the stability of the country.
The king’s decision comes just before Muhyiddin is set to have his razor-thin majority tested when the parliament reconvenes early next month to discuss the 2021 budget that’s due on Nov. 6. Failing to pass the budget is akin to losing a no-confidence vote, analysts say. A state of emergency means the budget would not be put to a vote.
“The only benefit would accrue to the Prime Minister as Parliament would be paralysed,” former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wrote in his blog on Saturday, adding the premier is using the pandemic to justify the delaying of parliament. “What can Emergency do to stop the pandemic more than what we can do now. Nothing.”
The Cabinet has taken note of the king’s opinion and will discuss further the orders, said Muhyiddin in a statement Sunday night, adding that he welcomed the advice that the stability of the government is not disturbed.
Malaysia’s ringgit traded near a one-month low Monday while sovereign bonds extended losses. The currency has weakened in October, lagging Asian peers which have all risen on the back of a weaker dollar. The stock benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index slipped 0.7% to its lowest level since Sept. 11.
“The political uncertainty is taking a toll on the ringgit,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Singapore. The currency will find some relief after the king denied the emergency request but “the Covid-19 outbreak and questions over the government’s future will see the currency underperform,” he said.
Muhyiddin in March emerged as the head of an unwieldy bloc with a majority of only a few lawmakers, prompting constant speculation about the potential collapse of the government. Malaysia’s United Malays National Organization party, the largest block in the ruling coalition, recently threatened to pull out unless it got better terms, but later pledged support for the government.
The one “truly facing an emergency” is Muhyiddin, not the country, former defense minister Mohamad Sabu, president of the National Trust Party tweeted on Friday. “He is in a state of ‘emergency’ to protect his position as prime minister. If the excuse he gives is Covid-19, we already have existing laws that we can use to fight this pandemic, without resorting to an emergency.”
The government has already tightened movement controls in Kuala Lumpur and several states, and last week ordered around 1 million people to work from home, to tamp down new cases. Malaysia reported a record 1,228 cases on Saturday, and 823 cases Sunday.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.