Controversial Emergency could give Muhyiddin leg up in GE15 if it leads to Covid-19 suppression, say analysts

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

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 ― Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s unexpected move to seek a proclamation of Emergency could be politically advantageous if it results in the containment of Covid-19 in Malaysia, according to analysts.

While they saw the Emergency as motivated by Muhyiddin’s desire to take the pressure off his government that was under attack from Umno, they said it could send Muhyiddin into the next general election with a surge in popularity, provided the pandemic could be defeated here.

In his address to explain the proclamation, Muhyiddin denied it was to avoid facing a general election, which he also pledged to call immediately after the Covid-19 pandemic was considered over.

However, the prime minister did not provide any metric to measure the pandemic’s status in Malaysia.

Political scientist Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid said the Emergency was a political gamble but was necessary after Umno lawmakers such as Datuk Seri Ahmad Jazlan Yaakub and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz openly withdrew support for Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional government.

“But it's a risk worth taking if PN is able to show to the people that government efforts have managed to contain the pandemic.

“They can then go for elections on a wave of newly found popularity as the Covid-19 breaker. Claim the credit. This is what all governments now will do. It's not unique to Malaysia,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

On the flip-side, however, Ahmad Fauzi said the move could be doubly unpopular if Muhyiddin’s government could not rein in Covid-19 infections and death in the country.

Citing outgoing US President Donald Trump’s close defeat in his country’s 2020 presidential election, Ahmad Fauzi said Trump was defeated in part due to his mishandling of the pandemic there.

Among others, the Emergency will result in the suspension of all legislatures in Malaysia as well as any state or federal election.

Malaysia would have faced at least one major election this year as the Sarawak state assembly will be dissolved automatically in June following the expiry of its five-year term.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist Professor Azmi Hassan said that while Muhyiddin’s move would be unpopular, especially among those eager to see a premature election, an Emergency was the logical move to avoid sending the country into a general election alongside Covid-19.

He also said it would also serve as a signal to Muhyiddin’s opponents about the lengths to which the prime minister would go.

“In a way, it’s a clear warning from the PM that he can do something unthinkable such as a proclamation of Emergency. But in this case I don’t see any difference from when the Batu Sapi and Grik emergencies were declared,” he explained.

The Emergency on Tuesday was unexpected as the Yang diPertuan Agong had rebuffed a similar attempt from Muhyiddin in October last year.

While the Emergency effectively gives Muhyiddin carte blanche to govern as he saw fit, he sought to assure Malaysians that it was strictly to prevent the country’s Covid-19 situation from deteriorating irretrievably.

The PM said it would allow the government to circumvent obstacles to the rapid deployment of measures to contain Covid-19 as well as mitigate the massive flooding in parts of the country.

However, the virtually limitless executive powers conferred upon the Muhyiddin government have discomfited parts of Malaysia who saw it as an assault on the country’s democracy.

Muhyiddin ended his special note yesterday on an ominous note, warning that any who tried to disrupt his government’s efforts to contain the pandemic and restore the economy would be dealt with severely for threatening national security.

Senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Oh Ei Sun interpreted this as a not-so-veiled warning to Muhyiddin’s political opponents.

“With wide-ranging powers that could potentially be invoked by Muhyiddin, even going against him could be viewed as undermining the pandemic fighting efforts.

“I think we are slipping down to a rule by diktat from a healthy parliamentary democracy,” Oh told Malay Mail.

“As for backlash, among the more educated enlightened communities there may be some but there are still a number of conservative support for the government, however if that is for Bersatu or Umno remains to be seen.”

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