SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah has rejected Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s suggestion to declare a state of emergency, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country continues to rise.
The palace's decision on Sunday (Oct 25) is seen as a blow to Mr Muhyiddin. The proposed state of emergency would have empowered his Perikatan Nasional (PN) government to pass laws without the need for parliamentary approval.
This includes the 2021 national budget, to be tabled by Mr Muhyiddin on Nov 6. The budget will be key to help Malaysians cushion the economic impact of COVID-19.
The freedom to circumvent parliamentary debate for next year's budget would have been welcome for the ruling bloc amid political uncertainty in the country.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has claimed that he has a convincing majority to take over the government.
Meanwhile, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which is part of Mr Muhyiddin's government, has been agitating for a fairer redistribution of government positions and ministerial posts as it has the largest number of lawmakers in the ruling coalition.
Associate Professor Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, who heads the Governance and Integrity Cluster at Universti Utara Malaysia’s College of Law, Government and International Studies, told CNA that Mr Muhyiddin had proposed the emergency ordinance likely because he was wary that the 2021 national budget would not be passed as he did not have the support of the majority of the MPs.
“As the ordinance will not be enacted for now, the budget will now have to go through the normal parliament process,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.
Here is how the king's decision could impact the upcoming budget debate:
WILL OPPOSITION PARTIES HEED THE ROYAL DECREE AND STOP POLITIKING?
Although his proposal for a state of emergency was rejected, Mr Muhyiddin can be buoyed by the fact that the king endorsed his government’s ability to lead the country out of the pandemic.
In a statement issued by the palace, Comptroller of the Royal Household Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin said: “After considering the request (from the prime minister) and discussing with the Malay rulers, and considering the situation of the country, Al-Sultan Abdullah felt the current government has managed to deal with this pandemic well and effectively.
"His Majesty strongly believes in the ability of the Government under the leadership of the Prime Minister to continue to implement policies and enforcement actions to curb the symptoms of the COVID-19 epidemic from continuing to spread," the statement added.
The decree also warned politicians, without naming them specifically, to “immediately stop all politicking that could disrupt the stability of the government.”
Political analyst Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs noted that the royal decree was “simply an advice from the king who is a constitutional monarch" and therefore does not interfere with parliamentary democracy.
Hence, in principle, the MPs could continue with their “tussle for power” and vote for or against the budget bill, he explained.
“But the Malaysian body politic is still very feudalistic in its collective mindset, where royalty is held in exalted respect, such that some politicians may be swayed to not ‘rock the boat’ and continue to support the government by voting for the budget. It remains to be seen whether such advice would be summarily heeded, or not,” said Dr Oh.
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha also noted that based on statements from some opposition parties, there seems to be a commitment to “abide by the king’s decree” and not do anything that will jeopardise the stability of the government.
For instance, Mr Anwar said in a statement on Sunday evening: “I duly note the advice given by His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong that political leaders and members of Parliament should exercise restraint and refrain from excessive politicking during this time.
“Political leaders and members of Parliament must execute their duties to uphold the Constitution and their responsibilities to the people, to the institution of Parliament, and to the nation to defend justice, reject corruption and abuse of power.”
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha said that Mr Muhyiddin will also be looking to seek assurance from the leaders of these parties to “follow through with their statements” that they are willing to work with the government, before he tables the budget.
CAN MUHYIDDIN BANK ON UMNO’S SUPPORT?
In addition to challenges from the opposition, Mr Muhyiddin may also need to contend with those in the ruling bloc.
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha said many UMNO members have been dissatisfied with Mr Muhyiddin’s leadership and have not been afraid to express their grievances.
“The signs are there that many UMNO members, especially those on corruption trials, may not be happy with the status quo. Some of them have also hinted that they might support Anwar as prime minister instead,” said Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha.
“I think that they will support Muhyiddin for this budget but it also depends on negotiations,” he added.
According to reports, Mr Muhyiddin had agreed to meet all the PN party leaders on Monday morning. However, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi did not attend as he was reportedly unwell.
In a statement released on Sunday night, Mr Ahmad Zahid expressed hope that all party leaders could unite and “focus on handling the spread of the COVID-19 for the safety of the people”.
He also called for a “national reconciliation initiative” which encompasses the political, economic, social, and safety agenda for Malaysians.
UMNO's supreme council is scheduled to meet on Monday night.
Dr Oh opined that Mr Muhyiddin may have to negotiate with UMNO as support from the party’s MPs would be essential in passing the 2021 budget.
“UMNO in essence holds the lynchpin to the passage of the budget bill, as it has the largest bloc of undecided members of parliament,” he said.
“Muhyiddin would probably have to deploy some sort of divide-and-rule plus carrot-and-stick tactics to secure some factions in UMNO to support his budget,” Dr Oh added.
WOULD MUHYIDDIN RESIGN IF THE BUDGET FAILS TO PASS?
Analysts interviewed by CNA said that the PN government could collapse if Mr Muhyiddin fails to garner simple majority support to pass the budget and approve expenditure.
Assoc Prof Ahmad Martadha said that if this situation arises, Mr Muhyiddin could either step down and let the king appoint a new prime minister, or he can ask for parliament to be dissolved and a general election will be held.
However, Dr Oh noted that holding polls in the short term would be endangering the lives of Malaysians. He noted how the government's decision to hold the Sabah State Elections held in September has been widely criticised as it has led to a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last month.
“To hold general election during this pandemic period would perhaps be politically and epidemiologically untenable. So, (if the budget fails to pass) Muhyiddin would likely have to resign and a new PM is to be appointed by the king,” he added.