KUALA LUMPUR: United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has pleaded with the king to not extend Malaysia's state of emergency beyond Aug 1, its president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said after an audience with the ruler on Friday (Jun 11).
The party also wanted the parliament to reconvene again to ensure that the country's "democratic system can be defended", Ahmad Zahid told journalists outside the palace.
UMNO's stance echoed that of Leader of the Opposition Anwar Ibrahim, who called for the state of emergency to end as scheduled in his meeting with King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.
Al-Sultan Abdullah has been summoning political party leaders to the palace for meetings this week.
He first met with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for a pre-Cabinet meeting, and then granted audiences to Mr Anwar, Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu and Democratic Action Party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng on Wednesday.
READ: Anwar says he pleaded with Malaysian king against extending state of emergency, new government not discussed
On Thursday, the king had audiences with leaders of Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, Malaysian Chinese Associatio, Parti Warisan Sabah, as well as former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is heading the yet-to-be-registered Parti Pejuang Tanah Air.
Those who received a Friday slot included MIC president S. A. Vigneswaran and Parti Bersatu Sabah president Maximus Johnity Ongkili, while leaders from Sarawak were scheduled to have a virtual audience with the king on Monday.
Al-Sultan Abdullah had earlier declared a nationwide state of emergency back in January to curb the spread of COVID-19. Parliament, state legislative assemblies and elections are suspended, while economic activities are allowed to continue.
Malaysia's COVID-19 numbers have continued to rise since January, and as of Friday, total caseload stood at 646,411 cases, with 79,848 active cases and 3,684 deaths.
With the parliamentary suspension, the legitimacy of Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional government - formed following a power tussle in February and March last year - cannot be challenged in the august house. Mr Muhyiddin had said he would advise the king to dissolve the parliament once the pandemic is under control.
Speaking to journalists on Friday, Ahmad Zahid said the damage of a prolonged state of emergency would be "too great for the country".
"And it was obvious that even without the emergency, the government could previously handle matters related to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
Ahmad Zahid, who is Bagan Datuk MP, added that parliament meetings would ensure that the government administration is held accountable through checks and balances.
"UMNO is of the opinion that the parliament is an important official platform to voice the people's grouses, such as moratorium, increasing price of goods, i-Sinar and i-Lestari 2.0 and other assistance for everyone," he said, referring to the retirement fund withdrawal programmes.
On Dr Mahathir's proposal to set up a National Operations Council to take over the country's administration, Ahmad Zahid said this was not discussed in his meeting with the king.
The council, better known by its Malay abbreviation Mageran, was an emergency administrative body established to restore the rule of law in Malaysia after the May 13 racial riots in 1969.
The opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan has rejected the proposal on Friday, and reiterated its stance that the state of emergency should end immediately and the parliament should reconvene.
Meanwhile, the palace said the king is due to meet with the other Malay rulers next Wednesday for a special discussion on the efforts to fight COVID-19 and their implementation during the state of emergency.