State of Emergency! What do you mean state of emergency? I believe that was the common reaction to the announcement on January 12 this year. What a start to what can only seem like another tumultuous year.
There have been a few emergency situations in our country in the past. Quite some time ago, we had the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation in September 1964. There was another emergency in September 1966 in Sarawak after political squabbles got out of hand. And yet another, in November 1977 in Kelantan, during a power struggle between the political parties of UMNO and Parti Islam SeMalaysia.
I am sure everyone is familiar with the May 15, 1969, emergency put in place after the deadly race riots on May 13. Policemen and soldiers were deployed, and curfews were imposed. I was too young to remember that episode but so much has been said and books published on the matter, whether banned or not depending on the author’s views.
So, what does an ‘emergency’ entail? Basically, Article 150 (1) of the Federal Constitution provides:
“If the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened, He may issue a proclamation of Emergency making therein a declaration to that effect.”
With that the proclamation of Emergency in accordance with Article 150 (1) of the Federal Constitution declared a state of Emergency for the whole Federation effective from January 11, 2021, to August 1st, 2021.
The aim of this extraordinary measure is to tackle the surging COVID-19 pandemic, as it empowers the government to focus on tackling the menace unobstructed. At first glance, the reasoning seemed sensible as the day the emergency was declared, Malaysia reported 3,309 new cases, breaking a record for the highest daily record. The number of new cases has been on the rise steadily since September last year. This is most alarming.
However, the emergency can be lifted sooner if an independent committee recommends that the pandemic is under control. And in that duration, the civilian government remains in place with no military rule.
There would be no curfews, economic activities to continue as usual, subject to health protocols, cabinet, state executive councils and public services continue to function as per normal, the King can make decrees under emergency, such as ordering the government to take over private healthcare facilities to relieve strain on public hospitals, and most interestingly, no parliamentary or state assembly sittings. And, no national, state or by-elections.
The rakyat (people) should be relieved that during this emergency, politicians would reduce politicking, what more thinking about a coup. Focus attention on the recent floods that hit the country and especially the pandemic that is not showing any sign of stopping with the recent rise in numbers.
But NO, there is still talk about how “I have obtained a strong, formidable and convincing support from members of Parliament to form a government” and claims that “with the support he has, this means the government currently being led by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has collapsed”. How detached from reality can one be?
Recently, Japan also declared a third state of emergency, three months ahead of the Summer Olympics, slated to begin in July, and just before Japan enters one of its biggest holiday seasons, the Golden Week, in late April.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures, namely Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, amid skeptics that it would be enough to curb the swift coronavirus resurgence. Local leaders requested the move as they faced a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases. The emergency was scheduled from April 25 through May 11.
Now, how is this similar to our situation? According to a report by the Jakarta Post (January 23, 2021), many politicians and civil society groups have argued that the emergency is unnecessary, as the government has many measures at its disposal. The existing powers provided under the prevailing Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act are sufficient.
The Movement Control Order 2.0 (MCO 2.0) was reinstated on January 13, and extended after March 4, to include the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO). It was the same measure that was used from March to May 2020, which brought down the numbers by mid-June. But that same directive has yet to see negligible levels of reducing the infection. Something is wrong. We cannot prolong something that is no longer working. Maybe different actions need to be played out while the vaccines are administered.
However, beyond the public health aspect, the emergency has far-reaching political implications. In addition to the unseating of Parliament and state assemblies, there will be no elections - national, state or by. And according to the Constitution of Malaysia 1957, “the government cannot introduce or pass new bills apart from issuing temporary laws – ordinances – effective for the duration of the Emergency.”
This situation has no doubt given the government a reprieve of sorts. But it does not stop the persistent call for snap elections from different quarters. Election speculation has always become a parlour pastime in these situations; traditional warung or mamak chatter – mostly harmless but the very devil’s workshop for idle minds.
But it would be a whole different ball game for the people especially, for the country specifically and for my friends in the media, to have politicians that would fight for the same principles that we believe in. And, all of us who have been through so many election histories and political turbulences should know that there are only three choices in politics for the rare few – lead, follow or step aside.
Associate Professor Dr Roslina Abdul Latif is Co-Editor SEARCH, the Journal of Media and Communication Research, at School of Media and Communication, Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus