Analysts say state of emergency only band aid for Perikatan, will backfire in long run

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin attends a Perikatan Nasional event at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2020. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin attends a Perikatan Nasional event at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur September 1, 2020. ― Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 25 — Amid public debate on whether the Yang di-Pertuan Agong will consent to a proclamation of emergency or whether the government is asking for it as speculated, Malaysia’s political observers are clear on one thing — the very idea reflects badly on the ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN).

University of Malaya’s Awang Azman Awang Pawi said that the speculation of such a drastic action only reinforces the perception that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has failed to address not only Covid-19 pandemic-related issues, but also in tackling political instability.

“The entire situation shows that PN has arrived at a dead end and has to resort to asking for the King to help with his endorsement of an emergency proclamation.

“Should the King say yes to an emergency state for the country, this would mean that he could choose to appoint an interim prime minister, one who can do the job better," the associate professor of socio-culture told Malay Mail when contacted yesterday.

According to Awang Azman, a full Cabinet will not be needed during a state of emergency.

“Only a few will be selected and this decision is up to the King.

“This will lead to discontent among parties that form the PN coalition, be it Umno or PAS, and even Bersatu as some of them would lose their Cabinet positions in the event of either a suspended Cabinet or a one that is reduced in size," he said.

Awang Azman was weighing in on news reports of an “emergency” proposal from Putrajaya that cited anonymous sources close to the government or those with knowledge of last Friday’s special Cabinet discussion and the subsequent audience with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah at the Kuantan palace.

He said declaring an emergency at this point in time will further strain the tenuous ties keeping Bersatu, Umno and PAS together as the ruling coalition.

“In other words, calling for an emergency will backfire on PN,” he said.

Political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said the “emergency” proposal will not boost confidence in the PN government, but will instead have the opposite effect, noting that public support for it has already eroded.

“It compounds PN's problems by seemingly confirming what many have suspected all along, that PN has lost its parliamentary majority and is duty-bound to resign once this is solidly proven, for example, upon losing its Budget 2021 Bill.

“If at all there is any boost to PN, it will be purely temporary,” the Universiti Sains Malaysia professor said.

Umno backbencher Tan Sri Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah has issued a strongly-worded statement last night claiming knowledge that Muhyiddin no longer commanded even a simple majority in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat.

Ahmad Fauzi said that if anything, invoking a state of emergency declaration will undo any good the Muhyiddin government has done in the early stages of fighting the Covid-19 epidemic in the country.

“The PN government already has the unenviable reputation of being a backdoor ie unelected government.

“Calling for an emergency when its parliamentary majority is in question will worsen its treacherous image.

“Muhyiddin wouldn't want to go down in history as a national traitor and potentially being the prime minister with the shortest tenure is bad enough,” Ahmad Fauzi added.

He said that this negative view will not affect only Muhyiddin or his party Bersatu in the long run, but encompass Umno and PAS who are seen as complicit.

“Looking at the present trend, Umno might not endorse the decision en bloc, but some Umno MPs may prefer to side with an alternative government headed by a ‘national unity’ prime minister.

“Maybe someone like Tengku Razaleigh,” Ahmad Fauzi suggested.

He said that if the Gua Musang MP can potentially garner more support than Muhyiddin, other elected representatives might offer their support rather than have emergency declared and run the risk of Parliament being suspended for possibly six months.

Mohamad Faisol Keling from Universiti Utara Malaysia said that while Muhyiddin may think he will have gained the upper hand if an emergency is declared, he would actually be surrendering his role as head of government to the Agong.

“In Muhyiddin's context, a declaration of emergency cannot be seen as a personal and party interest because he's basically surrendering his power to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

“The prime minister will have no power and cannot enact laws and make decisions,” the associate professor in law, government and international studies said.

Mohamad Faisol drew parallels between an emergency under the present circumstances to 1969 when the country was run for two years by the National Operations Council, better known by its Malay term Majlis Gerakan Negara (Mageran).

Following the May 1969 race riots, Parliament was suspended and the Mageran led by then deputy prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein as its director of operations to restore peace and stability.

Then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj was not formally a member of Mageran, though he was purportedly consulted on major decisions.

Mageran was instrumental in the selection of people to help draft the Rukun Negara, the five guiding principles for Malaysia going forward as a liberal, progressive, just and democratic country.

What’s the alternative then?

Mohamad Faisol said the Pakatan Harapan (PH) Opposition coalition can try seeking another audience with the King.

Awang Azman said PH will have to step up and prove that it is able to fill in the gaps left behind by PN even as it remains the Opposition.

“Pakatan Harapan needs to work doubly hard to gain the support of the people, as once the emergency state ends, it will be the general election next and PH needs to be ready by then.

“During this time, the rakyat will evaluate the moves that PN took, one that resorted in an emergency state. Can they still trust PN?” he asked.

Ahmad Fauzi said that if PH wants a better alternative than for Malaysia to be in a state of emergency, it could support a national unity government even if it is not led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

“As I mentioned above, this is in lieu of an emergency state called. Once emergency measures are in motion, nothing can be done to counter the Mageran-like powers. Not even a judicial review,” he said.

Reports have so far suggested that Putrajaya is seeking a dubious so-called state of “partial emergency”, also dubbed as “economic, health, or political emergency”.

It is unclear what the emergency powers being sought are at the moment as the breadth and scope under a state of emergency are far-ranging.

However, the King has reportedly expressed his interest to discuss matters with the other Rulers.

Kuala Lumpur police have confirmed that the Malay Rulers will be meeting at Istana Negara here at 2.30pm today.

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