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Malaysia will not extend COVID-19 state of emergency, says law minister

Malaysia will not extend COVID-19 state of emergency, says law minister

Police officers check vehicles at a road block during an enhanced lockdown, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jul 3, 2021. (File photo: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will not extend a months-long national state of emergency when it ends on Aug 1, law minister Takiyuddin Hassan said on Monday (Jul 26).

Malaysia has been under emergency rule since January, with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin arguing it was needed to curb the spread of COVID-19. But critics have slammed the move and accused the premier of trying to cling to power amid a slim majority.

The state of emergency allowed the government to rule by decree and suspend parliament, prompting critics to accuse Muhyiddin of using the crisis to avoid a no-confidence vote and shore up his weak coalition.

Despite the emergency and strict lockdowns, the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia has only worsened, triggering public anger.

Malaysia reported a record number of cases on Sunday, taking the total number of infections past 1 million. Its per capita infection rate is the highest in the region.

Minister Takiyuddin said the government will not ask the king to extend the emergency. He was speaking in parliament, which had been suspended due to the emergency but convened for a special session on Monday.

READ: Malaysian parliament meets for first time this year, MPs to seek clarifications on COVID-19 response

Facing mounting public anger and pressure from the king, Muhyiddin agreed to reconvene the legislature for a five-day sitting before the state of emergency officially ends next month.

However, the opposition has slammed the short session as a sham that will not truly test the embattled premier's support.

Muhyiddin also defended his handling of the pandemic in an address to the legislature, saying he understood "the public's anxiety amid the spike in COVID cases".

"The government is not sitting back and watching the public suffer - (we are) acting to save lives."

READ: Record COVID-19 deaths, ICU patients as Malaysia reports more than 14,000 new cases

"WISHES OF THE KING"

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy in which the king has a largely ceremonial role, carrying out his duties with advice from the prime minister and Cabinet. But the monarch also has the power to decide if an emergency should be declared.

Muhyiddin has governed with a razor-thin majority and led an unstable ruling coalition since coming to power in March 2020.

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, Malaysia's biggest political party and key ally in the coalition, withdrew support for Muhyiddin earlier this month.

Nonetheless, Malaysia's attorney-general said the withdrawal will not affect the position of Muhyiddin or his Cabinet as the question of his house majority can only be determined by parliament.

Parliament's current special session will run for five days. So far, there have been no indications that a confidence vote will be called.

Opposition lawmakers expressed anger at not being able to debate or vote on anything during the session, pointing out the king himself had called for important issues to be scrutinised.

"The prime minister has acted as a traitor for not adhering to the wishes of the king," opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the legislature.

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Source: AGENCIES/dv

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