Malaysia's king to consult with rulers amid talk of emergency

By A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's King Al-Sultan Abdullah will consult with other senior royals on proposals by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the palace said on Saturday, after sources told Reuters the premier had asked the king to declare a state of emergency.

Muhyiddin met with the king on Friday to present the emergency proposals that include a suspension of parliament, the sources with direct knowledge of the matter said, a move that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim denounced as an attempt by the premier to retain control amid a power struggle.

The proposal comes as Malaysia faces a resurgence in coronavirus cases, a pandemic-battered economy and doubts over Muhyiddin's ability to command a majority in parliament and pass a budget for 2021.

The palace did not identify the recommendations made by Muhyiddin, but said the king would soon hold the consultation with the heads of other royal households.

"Al-Sultan Abdullah greatly understands the need for the country's administration to continue to tackle the threat of COVID-19," the palace said in a statement.

Under the constitution, the king can decide if an emergency should be declared based on the threat to security, economy or public order. The Council of Rulers, which groups the heads of Malaysia’s nine royal houses, can deliberate on questions of national policy and has the power to withhold consent from any law.

A source familiar with the matter said the rulers will meet on Sunday. Muhyiddin's office has not commented on the emergency proposal.

Opposition politicians say there is no valid reason for the government to impose an emergency and that it was meant to avoid a showdown in parliament over the support Muhyiddin commands.

In the first official comments by the government on the proposed emergency, trade minister Azmin Ali said politicians should come together to protect public health and the economy.


"Opposition parties' outburst yesterday about the nation descending into dictatorship should a state of economic emergency be declared is therefore an act of utter recklessness and irresponsibility most unbecoming of members of parliament," Azmin said in a post on Facebook.

He said the government's preemptive measures must also include border controls, and that the armed forces and police must be empowered through constitutional processes to take action against threats including what he termed "illegal immigrants with high risk of transmitting COVID-19 or other infectious diseases."

Malaysia has in several instances blamed undocumented migrants in the country for a spike in coronavirus infections.

The southeast Asian nation reported 1,228 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, its biggest daily jump since the pandemic started.

Muhyiddin's government is scheduled to propose its 2021 budget on Nov. 6.

There have been questions over whether Muhyiddin can muster a majority in parliament to pass the budget since Anwar staked his claim to form a government. The premier has also come under fire from some of his coalition partners, who have threatened to withdraw support for him and back Anwar instead.

Defeat on the budget would count as a vote of no confidence in Muhyiddin and could trigger an election. Emergency rule might mean the budget would not be put to a vote.

Former premier and opposition lawmaker Mahathir Mohamad said there were no riots or a breakdown of law and order to justify an emergency, which would give additional powers to Muhyiddin.

"Faced with the possibility of being overthrown, the prime minister wants the powers under a state of emergency," Mahathir in a blog post.

The Star daily reported the proposed emergency would only affect political activities, and there would be no curfews or any impact on economic activities.

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Lincoln Feast and David Holmes)