Malaysia’s state of emergency fails to tackle COVID outbreak, says opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim
The decision to end or extend the emergency is up to the king, but according to the Malaysian constitution, it should be taken on the advice of the prime minister, leaving open the possibility of it being extended beyond the next 10 weeks.
Anwar, for decades the almost-was of Malaysian politics, indicated an opening on the resumption of parliament “without necessarily going through a vote of no confidence” in the Muhyiddin administration as the pandemic raged. But he said the government had not only lost the support of its partners in the Malaysian government pact, but also public confidence in its response to COVID-19.
Muhyiddin on Thursday targeted rich countries for not exporting enough vaccines, but as Malaysian states are now trying to source them directly, Anwar said the prime minister could not use this to distract from a ” failure of national policies ”.
“The Prime Minister must resign honorably,” he said. “There is no consistency and manifest incompetence. You have an announcement, for example, at 3 p.m., where the defense ministry will say that there will be an MCO (movement control order) in a few districts. At 8 pm, the Prime Minister says it is for the whole country. There is no coordination. Even vaccines locally … why did they take so long to order and buy these vaccines?
“It’s the Titanic and they are the captain.”
The record infections in Malaysia came after schools and Ramadan bazaars remained open as cases rose during the Muslim holy month and despite tightening restrictions ahead of Eid-al-Fitr celebrations.
Muhyiddin told the Nikkei Conference on the Future of Asia on Thursday that the government must strike a balance between protecting lives and economic considerations, highlighting six stimulus packages worth RM340 billion Malaysian ($ 105 billion), a figure representing 20% of the country’s GDP.
“Due to the complexity of the fallout from the pandemic, policymakers at all levels have been faced with the need to perform a difficult and almost impossible juggling act,” he said.
While less than a million people have been fully vaccinated, the pace will improve next month, according to Coordinating Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, with more doses expected to arrive.
Never far from the stage, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad – who reneged on his promise to hand over to Anwar before his government collapsed last year – on Thursday called for people to be confined to their homes to face the new wave.
The nonagenarian has already asked the king to lift the suspension of Parliament.
Professor James Chin, an expert on Malaysian politics at the University of Tasmania, believes most Malaysians would give Muhyiddin the benefit of the doubt on the state of emergency, but said COVID-19 had ‘very well served this hijacked government ”.
“It has allowed him to do a lot of things – to shut down Parliament, to access the reserve fund, to enforce laws that he cannot normally impose,” he said. “It also shows the failure of a country like Malaysia… because there are no checks and balances, things can get out of hand very easily.
Dr Amrita Malhi, a researcher at Australian National University, said the alarming increase in cases undermined the legitimacy of the emergency status.
“Public anger is mounting and yet there is no legitimate political process currently underway that could help channel this anger,” she said.
Malaysia’s next election isn’t due until 2023, but Muhyiddin has maintained he will call voters to the polls when the country emerges from the pandemic. It’s clearly a bit far away and the gathering of millions to vote, risking further spreading the virus, is about the last thing Malaysia needs now.
But when the time comes, 73-year-old Anwar believes his People’s Justice Party (PKR) can muster an alternative majority to form the government and finally rise to the post of prime minister. This includes the possibility of a rapprochement with nemesis Umno and even another unlikely alliance with Mahathir, although the new 95-year-old party has only a handful of MPs.
“I am ready to talk to anyone as long as they agree that this country needs to influence change for good governance and rid the country of systemic corruption,” Anwar said.
“I’m not too worried about what happened with Mahathir who reneged on his promise because it wasn’t the first time.