KUALA LUMPUR: In a move to prevent a potential fourth wave of COVID-19 cases in Malaysia, Malaysian King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah has agreed to declare a state of emergency in Batu Sapi to postpone the upcoming by-election, which was scheduled for Dec 5.
A statement issued by palace comptroller Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin on Wednesday evening (Nov 18) said the king agreed to the emergency declaration after a one-hour meeting with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
Mr Muhyiddin last month met the king to put forward a proposal to declare a state of emergency in Malaysia, in light of rising COVID-19 cases and political instability. The king, after consulting other Malay rulers, said there was no need to declare a state of emergency in Malaysia at that time.
Article 150 of Malaysia's Federal Constitution stipulates that the Malaysian king may issue a proclamation of emergency upon the advice of the prime minister if he is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, economic life or public order is threatened.
Following the palace's announcement on Wednesday, Mr Muhyiddin held a live address to explain the decision for the emergency proclamation in Batu Sapi.
He said the decision was made following a Cabinet meeting on Nov 13 and done so in the interest of public health.
"In making the decision, the Cabinet had taken into account the pandemic’s spread in Sabah as a result of the state election which took place in September," said Mr Muhyiddin.
While the Election Commission (EC) could set strict standard operating procedures (SOPs), adherence to those SOPs have been found to be weak, said Mr Muhyiddin.
In addition, election workers have also expressed concerns they might be infected, Mr Muhyiddin said. As of Nov 6, the commission had only appointed 143 duty personnel, 17.1 per cent of the 837 people required to carry out the by-election.
Mr Muhyiddin also pointed out that the event would involve movement by voters and duty personnel across districts, which was against the current Conditional movement control order (CMCO).
Other factors included a large number of senior citizens aged 60 and above, who accounted for 22.3 percent of the 32,962 registered voters in the parliamentary constituency.
Another factor the Cabinet considered was the potential social and economic impact on the residents of Batu Sapi and the larger Sandakan district if the pandemic were to spread exponentially after the by-election.
“We don’t want to have a leap in new cases in Batu Sapi and in Sabah if this pandemic spreads after the by-election is held. This will threaten the efforts of our frontliners who are largely fatigued having long combatted this pandemic,” Mr Muhyiddin added.
Mr Muhyiddin also said that there would not be any curfew or martial law in Batu Sapi.
“The lives of those living in Batu Sapi will not be affected by this emergency declaration, there is no curfew or martial law in Batu Sapi. Government administration, economic and social activities can be carried out subject to new normal rules and practices and the SOPs under the CMCO in effect in Sabah."
Mr Muhyiddin said that the by-election would take place once the pandemic was over.
“Once the by-election is held in the future, voters will be able to exercise their democratic rights in a safer, and more peaceful situation,” he said.
The health ministry on Wednesday reported 660 new COVID-19 infections, taking Malaysia's total number of cases to 50,390. There were also four new fatalities, bringing the total deaths to 322.
In addition to the now-cancelled Batu Sapi by-election, another parliamentary seat in Perak and a state seat in Sabah are now vacant too, following the deaths of Gerik MP Hasbullah Osman and Bugaya state legislator Manis Muaka Mohd Darah respectively.
Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan), the Sabah-centric party which formerly held Batu Sapi, issued a statement under its president Mohd Sahfie Apdal, thanking the king for the royal assent to declaring an emergency in the parliamentary constituency.
"His Majesty has used wisdom in declaring the emergency.
"In carrying out democratic processes, the people's health cannot be gambled with, and in fact needs to be prioritised in the country's situation right now which is still fighting the spread of COVID-19," said Mr Shafie.
He added that the party hoped the government would find the best method to ensure that a new date is set and inform residents when the emergency period ends.
“Warisan hopes Batu Sapi's constituents' right to choose their representative will be fulfilled once infections could be controlled and the emergency is withdrawn,” Mr Shafie also said.