Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah could declare an emergency without dissolving Parliament if there exists a political crisis with no end in sight during a time of fresh spikes in Covid-19 infections, a senior lawyer warns.
Haniff Khatri Abdulla said such power is vested in the Yang di-Pertuan Agong based on Articles 40 and 150 of the Federal Constitution, which could be used to stabilise the administration of the government in its battle against the third wave of the pandemic.
“The Agong may view this as a political crisis. If we’re thinking of calling for a general election during the Covid-19 pandemic, just look at what happened in Sabah where there has been a spread of infections,” Haniff told MalaysiaNow.
His comments come in the wake of intense speculation about the future of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Perikatan Nasional government amid attempts to topple him through defections and a forced snap election.
“Such a situation may stir the Agong into rejecting any proposal to call for a general election at this time,” Haniff added.
He said even during the political crisis in February, when Covid-19 was still at the early stage of infections in Malaysia, the Conference of Rulers had indicated that they were not keen on a general election, despite the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government after 22 months in power.
“If there is the threat of political instability as well as of Covid-19, on that basis the Agong can invoke Article 150 to declare a political emergency,” said Haniff, who has acted in several high-profile cases including for former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
There have been calls of late from some Umno leaders for a Cabinet reshuffle, on the back of a failed plan by PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim to topple Muhyiddin’s government through the defection of MPs to his side.
Last week, MalaysiaNow revealed that Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and his predecessor Najib Razak had unilaterally written to the palace expressing support for Anwar, claiming they and “a number of Umno MPs” would back the PKR chief to topple Muhyiddin.
The revelation of their joint letter came after Anwar said he had handed over “authentic documents” to the king on Oct 13 proving he had a “formidable majority” on his side.
But the claim was immediately dismissed by Istana Negara which said the politician failed to show the list of MPs on his side during his half-hour audience with Sultan Abdullah.
Haniff said the Agong could find himself unable to decide which bloc commands a majority as a result of such uncertainties.
He also said the king could declare a health emergency if the Covid-19 pandemic spirals out of control.
“The government through the prime minister could advise the Agong to declare a health emergency,” he said.
If the Agong was not happy with the well-being of the people, Haniff said, he could invoke his powers to declare an emergency at either the state or national level.
But he said in a health crisis such as the one presented by Covid-19, the prime minister should also take into account the views of health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah before advising the king to declare the emergency.
Emergency but business as usual
But regardless of the nature of the emergency, whether political or health-related, Haniff said it would not require the army to take over the administration, as was the case in the aftermath of the racial riots of 1969 when the National Operations Council, known by its Malay acronym of Mageran, was formed.
“I don’t like the term Mageran as it brings with it a certain stigma from the 1960s involving the army, emergency and the likes. But it was actually an emergency consultative council,” he said.
The Mageran, which was aimed at rebuilding race relations following the deadly riots, was dissolved in 1971 with the restoration of Parliament.
Haniff said in a situation where there is both political conflict and an uncontrollable spread of Covid-19 infections, the Agong could declare both emergencies simultaneously.
Under such circumstances, he said, businesses could continue operating and people could still go about their daily routines including going for vacations or visiting friends.
“The people will understand the narrative, that it is an emergency to restore politics and public health.”