Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said Friday he was concerned about reports that the prime minister is seeking the declaration of a state of emergency to fight the coronavirus, saying the premier likely wants to suspend Parliament so he can stymie bids to oust his government.
Local media has also reported that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is seeking the declaration of a state of emergency to suspend parliament to focus on battling a fresh coronavirus outbreak. Speculation intensified after he held a special Cabinet meeting Friday and then held an audience with the king.
The move came after Malaysian opposition leader met with the country's king last week and submitted documents proving his "strong and convincing" parliamentary support to form a government.
Anwar called for Muhyiddin's resignation based on the support of over 120 lawmakers in the 222-strong Parliament as he disclosed his numbers for the first time since the announcement last month that he had secured a majority from federal lawmaker to form a new government. He said it was now up to King Al-Sultan Abdullah to decide on the next step, but added Muhyiddin had lost his majority and should resign.
A new wave of coronavirus cases that saw Malaysia's confirmed tally double to more than 24,000 in just three weeks prompted the king to delay the process of verifying Anwar's claim. Anwar said any emergency would clearly be aimed at keeping the government in power, according to an Associated Press (AP).
"We have a government which lacks legitimacy and which knows it would fail to demonstrate majority support in Parliament, and is using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to justify its abuse of power,” Anwar said in a statement Friday.
Some media cited sources as saying that Muhyiddin is seeking an "economic emergency" to merely suspend Parliament, without any curfew. Still it would be the first time since emergency laws were invoked since 1969, when they were used following deadly racial riots.
Under the constitution, the king can declare a state of emergency if he is satisfied that there is a sufficient threat to national security, economy or public order.
The king plays a largely ceremonial role but he can appoint a prime minister who in his view is likely to command a majority. The king could also dissolve Parliament and trigger elections on the prime minister's advice.
Muhyiddin faces a key test of his support early next month when his government is due to seek approval for its 2021 budget in Parliament. If he is unable to pass the bill, pressure will build for him to resign or call a new election.
An emergency could allow him to delay that vote and consolidate support. Anwar said declaring a state of emergency in the absence of a threat to national security would be "nothing more than the descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism."
It would also show the government's incompetence in handling the pandemic, he said. "The government has failed to provide strong leadership in handling this crisis and is instead resorting to undemocratic means to stay in power," he added.
Muhyiddin took power in March after causing the collapse of Anwar's reformist alliance, which came out atop elections in 2018. Muhyiddin withdrew his party from the alliance and joined with the opposition to form a Malay-centric government.
Then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned in protest, saying he wouldn't work with the opposition as they had been accused of corruption during their time in power before the 2018 polls. Apart from Anwar, Muhyiddin also faces threats from the key ally in his ruling coalition, which is angry about being sidelined despite being the biggest party