State of Emergency in Malaysia

Malaysian Prime Minister declared a state of emergency this morning (11am, Tuesday 12 Jan 2021) in a special address made over national broadcast and social media channels. PM Muhyiddin Yassin is the 8th Prime Minister after taking over the reign from Dr Mahathir in March 2020, some 10 months ago.

The last state of emergency in Malaysia was declared in 2013 due to the worsening haze that affected much of South East Asia. That was incidentally the 3rd emergency declared over the recurring haze problems, the earlier two in 2005 and 1997 respectively.

Prior to that, an emergency was declared in 1977 when Kelantan faced political violence over its Menteri Besar’s refusal to step down. 

8 years before that, it was the emergency due to May 13 (1969) racial riots and that lasted for about 2 years before parliament was allowed to resume in early 1971. 

An emergency was also declared in 1966 in Serawak, again due to political turmoil over the removal of the Chief Minister. 

And the earliest state of emergency was declared in 1964, 6 years after Malaysia declared its independence when Indonesia take up arms in the infamous Confrontation that lasted for 3 years. 

So a state of emergency is nothing new to  the first and second generation Malaysians and one can say it is somewhat expected this time round for 2 main reasons – Covid and the opposition calls for a fresh national election to be convened as soon as possible in the wake of the current coalition losing sufficient number of parliamentarians to command majority rule. 

The Covid has entered into a very worrying stage. The second wave is taking a more serious tone than the first and it all happened after the Sabah election 3.5 months ago. Even the southern most state of Johor which saw recovery with single digit report in early September 2020 is now experiencing one of the worst statistics with a daily record of almost 1000 new cases of late. 

With so much stories of a battered economy due to Covid and closure of its border with Singapore, the Johoreans are truly facing the hardest challenge, to be made worse with the complete lockdown and interstate travel prohibitions. Initially PM Muhyiddin announced that this emergency is for a projected period of 2 weeks but surely all the measures in combating Covid will not end in a fortnight. The PKP restrictions will resume after the lifting of emergency whenever that might eventually be. Regardless of duration, pro-election politicians would have to lower their voices for now or risk public backlash for being motivated by greed-power driven or simply insensitive.

Muhyiddin has finally secured the blessings of the Agong this time round to impose a state of emergency, after an unsuccessful attempt made before the Budget debate. Assurance was given that this is not a military coup and that civil administration under Perikatan National will continue as it is.

However one has to take note that an emergency is more than just an ultra-restrictive movement condition in a given worrying state of affairs. It is a record that shows a government’s determination to tackle an extraordinary situation as much as it shows a country pushed to a wall. The government can intervene with a scale of measures but how long these interventions will last  depend on the resolve of the people. And that focus for now will hopefully force politicians from both sides of the fence to put healing of the nation first and foremost. 

By the way, the King has consented to an emergency period that will last all the way to 1 Aug 2021.

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