Ten things to know about: Malaysia’s Emergency 2021

A man watches a live telecast of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's speech in Kuala Lumpur January 12, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
A man watches a live telecast of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin's speech in Kuala Lumpur January 12, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 12 — Malaysia is now in a nationwide state of Emergency, a measure under the Federal Constitution that has not been used for several decades.

Here is everything you need to know, if you missed the prime minister’s 11am announcement on television or Facebook live:

1. When was this announced?

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah declared a state of Emergency this morning to curb the spread of Covid-19.

This comes a day after Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the movement control order (MCO) will be reintroduced in six states while six more will remain under the conditional movement control order (CMCO) and two under the recovery movement control order (RMCO) for two weeks beginning tomorrow (January 13). Under the MCO, only essential economic activities will be allowed to operate physically, while those not deemed essential will have to work from home.

To be precise, on January 11 at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur the Yang di-Pertuan Agong — as the country’s monarch — issued a proclamation of Emergency throughout Malaysia that takes effect from January 11 to August 1. The publication of this Emergency proclamation on the Federal Government Gazette website is listed as January 12 and the document itself carries the January 12 date, which means the proclamation was gazetted today.

In other words, the Emergency was already effective yesterday but was only publicly announced this morning.

2. How long will this last?

The Emergency Proclamation was made under Article 150(1) of the Federal Constitution and will last until August 1, but can end earlier or later depending on when the number of active Covid-19 cases can be brought under control again.

This will be decided by an independent task force consisting of both government and Opposition MPs, as well as health experts who will advise the King.

3. Why does Malaysia need a nationwide Emergency?

The simple answer given was: Covid-19.

But the full reason given by the prime minister was the threat to Malaysia’s economy due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the government required “certain powers” to bring the situation under control more effectively so as not to paralyse health services.

The additional threat to security and economic life in Malaysia is also due to the current disastrous floods in Johor, Pahang and Kelantan.

That is why Emergency was invoked under Article 150(1), which authorises the King to issue a proclamation of Emergency if he is satisfied that a “grave emergency exists” where the security, economic life, or public order in Malaysia or any part of the country is threatened.

4. Should I panic?

Muhyiddin gave his word that a civilian government is in operation, not a military one. He said there has been no coup, and that there is no need for curfew.

In his speech, he said: "I appeal to you brothers and sisters to remain calm and give full trust and support to the government throughout the emergency period.”

5. Economy and courts to go on as usual

The prime minister said Malaysia remains open for business and that economic activity will continue to ensure businesses can sustain and the people can still obtain income for the next eight months to come.

He also promised that he will not abuse Emergency powers to interfere with the judiciary, which is to function as usual.

"The judiciary will continue to be the beacon of justice in our country and I will never interfere in the business of the court," he said in his speech.

6. But Parliament, state assemblies can’t debate or pass any law

Under the Emergency declaration, Parliament and state legislative assemblies will not be meeting, until such a time as decided by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

This means that lawmakers, both at the state and federal levels, will not be able to make new laws or change any existing law.

Parliament and state assemblies are also important places where elected representatives ask the government for answers on policies, action and also data, while motions such as to measure confidence levels in the government can also be voted on there.

The Dewan Rakyat was scheduled to meet in March this year. The first meeting of 2021 was to last 20 days from March 8 to April 8. The second meeting for 12 days (June 14 to July 1) and the third meeting for 36 days (October 4 to December 8).

The Dewan Negara’s schedule is similarly interrupted. It was scheduled to meet for nine days starting from March 8 to April 28 before taking a break and resuming for six days (July 12 - July 27), and another break before the last 10-day meeting from December 6-December 21.

7. King can make laws

With Parliament suspended during the Emergency, the authority to make new laws called ordinances in this case, rests with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong if he is satisfied that there are certain circumstances which make it necessary for him to take “immediate action”. This would be in line with Article 150(2B) of the Federal Constitution.

Examples of ordinances or laws that the Agong can make in this Covid-19 Emergency, as spelled out by Muhyiddin in his speech are:

  • Temporary takeover or use or request for use of private hospitals’ assets, land, buildings, movable assets, resources to treat Covid-19 patients to reduce government hospitals’ burden. This can include private sectors’ manpower, expertise, facilities, labs, utilities
  • Giving the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) enforcement powers similar to those given to the police, and other powers to carry out public health functions
  • Increasing penalties or punishments on anyone who breaches laws and rules related to the control of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • To fight economic sabotage, monopoly, and excessive increase of prices in goods, with stricter enforcement and heavier penalties

All ordinances made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong during the Emergency will be gazetted, which means it will be published and will be made known to the public.

Despite the suspension of Parliament and state legislative assemblies, the federal government and state governments will continue to operate uninterrupted by the Emergency in line with the Federal Constitution and the ordinances to be made by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The federal government’s executive powers will also cover all matters under state governments’ legislative powers, except for those touching on Islamic laws, or Malaly customs, or any native laws or customs in Sabah and Sarawak, or religion, citizenship or language, in line with Article 150 (6A) of the Federal Constitution.

8. No GE15 until it is ‘safe’

During the Emergency, there will be no general election, state elections and by-elections (which are usually required under the law within 60 days once the legislative body is dissolved or once there is a vacancy), which the prime minister said is in line with the public’s wishes to not hold elections to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Noting recent calls for a snap poll, Muhyiddin said the Covid-19 pandemic is the thing that is stopping him from advising the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to dissolve Parliament to pave the way for the 15th general election (GE15).

But the prime minister promised and gave his commitment that the GE15 will be held as soon as the independent committee confirms that the Covid-19 situation has eased or fully recovered and it is “safe” to hold a general election.

“At that time, it will be up to the public to choose which government is qualified (layak) to govern this country and to take care of your welfare.”

9. Stern action against those who disrupt Covid-19 fight

Muhyiddin warned of stern action should anyone attempt to "disrupt" the government's Covid-19 fight and economy. "I hereby issue a strong warning to anyone who tries to disrupt the government's efforts to manage the Covid-19 pandemic and the country's economy. Stern action will be taken in the interest of the rakyat's welfare and national security."

10. Will your life change after this?

Not really or maybe not immediately, unless you are a lawmaker.

Life should continue on as usual (but under the new normal and under MCO/ CMCO/ RMCO SOPs depending on where you are located in Malaysia), but just remain alert to any upcoming new laws through Emergency ordinances that can affect your life.

Want to know more? Malay Mail last year wrote an explainer on declaring an emergency in Malaysia, including who can declare it and how it would affect the country. You can read it here.

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