Thursday, October 21, 2021

State of emergency looms as top officials make emotional plea for stability

But it would aim to suspend all political processes, with daily routines allowed to continue.

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A state of emergency, which could see the suspension of all political processes and procedures, is being considered as it appears to be the only practical way to help health authorities avoid a catastrophe caused by Covid-19, which has seen infections spiralling to 12,000 new cases and claiming 68 lives in the last three weeks alone.

MalaysiaNow has learnt that legal experts in Putrajaya are studying the option which is sanctioned by the Federal Constitution, following repeated appeals by senior health officials during high-level meetings this week.

The matter will be at the top of the agenda when Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin convenes a special meeting with his Cabinet members today.

This comes as senior health officials are said to be “expressing serious concerns about the likelihood of elections during the pandemic”, according to those who attended high-level meetings this week between various agencies tasked with battling Covid-19.

“At the heart of their concern is the budget next month. Any move to stop it from being passed could see the democratic process left with no choice but the dissolution of Parliament.

“The scenario can’t get any worse than that, as they warned that elections will lead to Covid-19 infections going out of control,” said the source who spoke to MalaysiaNow in exchange for assurance of anonymity.

The budget, to be tabled on Nov 6, must be passed with a majority vote.

But there are indications that it could be defeated if a small group of Umno MPs aligned with its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and former leader Najib Razak joins forces with PKR’s Anwar Ibrahim to vote against the budget.

Under the present convention, failure to pass the budget, whether due to MPs not voting for it or their absence from the voting process in the Dewan Rakyat, will mean the government losing its majority.

“The scenario can’t get any worse than that, as they warned that elections will lead to Covid-19 infections going out of control.”

“But with the opposition coalition clearly not enjoying a majority as seen in the recent episode involving Anwar, there cannot be a replacement prime minister, and a snap election would be inevitable,” a high-level source involved in the coordination between several agencies in the battle against Covid-19 told MalaysiaNow.

The absence of a clear majority would mean Muhyiddin is duty-bound to advise the Agong to dissolve the Parliament in order to call for an election.

“But that would be suicidal for public health. Thankfully, there are constitutional remedies to avoid this and save lives,” the source added.

Pandemic elections

Experts have cautioned against holding a general election amid the newest wave of infections.

They include former Election Commission chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, who warned of a “national health disaster” if elections were to be held now.

Rashid said authorities were unable to contain a spike in Covid-19 infections in the aftermath of the Sabah state election last month.

“The Sabah election proved this as the authorities did not have the capacity to check and control, given the volume of campaign activities all over the country. My plea is, please, don’t call for elections now,” Rashid told MalaysiaNow.

It is understood that several high-level meetings this week saw senior officers making “emotional appeals” to government leaders to stabilise the political climate.

This was despite the recent about-turn by Zahid, the Umno president, who urged his comrades to strengthen the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government.

Zahid and a group of Umno MPs had earlier given signals that they could pull out from the PN coalition government, which would deal a blow to Muhyiddin’s fragile majority.

Last week, MalaysiaNow revealed that Zahid had supported Anwar in his efforts to take control of Putrajaya, a plan that was derailed after the PKR president failed to prove his claim of having majority support during an audience with the Agong on Oct 13.

But with the budget fast approaching, there have been fears that any change of mind by a handful of MPs could trigger the collapse of the government and lead to a much-feared pandemic election.

‘Emergency but life goes on’

Experts have already weighed in on various constitutional provisions for avoiding an election.

“They include the Attorney-General’s Chambers who seem to be in agreement that short of declaring an emergency, no amount of appeals will ensure political stability,” a high-level source told MalaysiaNow.

Daily activities will still be allowed to continue if a state of emergency is declared, says lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla.

The power to declare an emergency is vested in the Agong based on Articles 40 and 150 of the Federal Constitution.

MalaysiaNow previously quoted senior lawyer Haniff Khatri Abdulla as saying that an emergency to contain the pandemic would not be the same as the Mageran, the Malay acronym for the National Operations Council which usurped the powers of Parliament in the aftermath of the bloody race riots of 1969.

He said a state of emergency at this time could allow businesses to continue operating and people to go about their daily routines without the sight of soldiers on the streets, as was the case 50 years ago.

“The people will understand the narrative, that it is an emergency to restore politics and public health.”

He also said that in a situation where there is both political conflict and an uncontrollable spread of Covid-19 infections, the Agong could declare both emergencies simultaneously.

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