One of Malaysia’s most prominent social critics has urged the opposition to prove it is serious about joining the battle against Covid-19 by accepting an offer to join the bipartisan committee to oversee the Covid-19 state of emergency.
“The opposition should show greater maturity and sense of responsibility, and the public will appreciate this,” Chandra Muzaffar told MalaysiaNow.
This comes as several senior Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders step up talk of challenging the proclamation in court, with threats to boycott the bipartisan committee to be formed in the coming days.
Chandra said the announcement that the committee would include opposition MPs was unprecedented and a break from past emergencies the nation had seen.
“The Covid-19 emergency declared last week was very specific in its orientation, with a clear deadline and period of time compared to the previous emergencies,” he told MalaysiaNow, responding to criticism against the move to declare an emergency.
The state of emergency was announced on Jan 12 after weeks of spikes in daily cases, ahead of the return of the movement control order (MCO) in large parts of the country.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had assured that a civilian government would remain despite the suspension of Parliament to prevent snap polls, with daily activities allowed throughout the emergency period ending Aug 1.
PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim however launched a petition campaign urging MPs to write to the palace to rescind the state of emergency, and vowed to challenge the proclamation in court.
Chandra said he was confident that any legal challenge to the emergency, invoked by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong under his constitutional power, would fail.
He added that the threat to challenge the emergency in court was not new.
“In the past, legal challenges were mounted, and failed. It will be hard to get the courts to declare it as being against the constitution,” Chandra said, adding that the latest emergency declaration followed the same procedure as its predecessors.
What set it apart, he said, was the announcement of the bipartisan committee.
“The actual power related to the emergency this time is with the committee. Not the prime minister or the Cabinet. It is the committee which will advise the king. This is very significant,” said Chandra.
‘Joining committee won’t compromise opposition’
He questioned the resistance of some opposition leaders as well as threats to boycott the committee.
“The attitude they have adopted is not helpful, it is not something we would expect of a mature opposition,” Chandra, one of the founding leaders of PKR when it was first launched as Parti Keadilan Nasional in 1999, told MalaysiaNow.
“The committee itself is very much in line with democratic norms and principles. It provides a role for the opposition. The opposition should make use of it, to participate and give its views.”
He brushed aside claims that the government is out to usurp powers by declaring an emergency, saying the current emergency is clear in its objectives.
“The actual power related to the emergency this time is with the committee. Not the prime minister or the Cabinet.”
He added that in 2013, then-prime minister Najib Razak had rescinded all past emergency proclamations as they had remained quietly in force.
“I don’t think any government that comes after that would want to put in place an emergency as the main foundation of governance.”
Malaysia had gone through several major emergencies which saw sweeping powers for the police and armed forces, including in the aftermath of the 1960 racial riots, and during the Confrontation with Indonesia.
Chandra said this is no longer the case.
“This is an emergency that is linked to a health crisis, ultimately to an economic crisis, both of which have a devastating impact on the people.
“If the opposition cares for the people, they should participate and not throw bricks from outside.”
He said being part of the emergency committee would not compromise the opposition as the committee is answerable to the Agong, and not the prime minister.
“Take it for what it’s worth. If they feel it is not working, that’s a different matter, but they should give it a chance.
“Given the war-like situation and the role offered to the opposition in the committee, I think the opposition should have adopted a more responsible approach,” Chandra added.