Aliran is alarmed by the cabinet’s reported decision to seek a state of emergency.
Many believe the move is more to protect the position of the prime minister and his government rather than to combat the pandemic.
Muhyiddin Yassin is obviously not confident his Budget will be approved in Parliament, which would lead to the collapse of his government. But fear of losing a de facto motion of no-confidence is no grounds for the declaration of an emergency.
The hasty decision to push for an emergency only reinforces the feeling that the Perikatan Nasional government lacks the numbers in Parliament now. It is widely being seen as a measure to hinder Anwar Ibrahim’s bid for power and to stop political moves from blocking Muhyiddin’s Budget.
Emergency rule during this pandemic should only be a last resort when all other measures have clearly failed – when health services are unable to cope, when death rates are skyrocketing and the security of the nation is seriously threatened.
But so far, our hospitals, though stretched, have coped admirably – a testament to the dedication of frontline personnel. They are by no means unable to cope. Today, fewer than 200 new cases are from the peninsula. Three quarters (528) of the new cases are from Sabah, where hidden hands had forced a state election, after which quarantine measures were lacking.
If Covid-19 was such a major threat, the government’s lax response for politicians and others returning from Sabah and the double standards in enforcement did not inspire confidence. To make matters worse, opposition-led states were excluded from key pandemic control meetings.
The initial nationwide lockdown was effective in containing the first wave of infections. The public cooperated with security and healthcare personnel and before long, the infections were reduced to low double-digit figures.
We did not need an emergency declaration back then, and we don’t need one now. Many other nations hit much harder by the pandemic, with infection cases running into the hundreds of thousands, have not resorted to emergency rule.
An emergency declaration here would hurt business confidence – both domestic and foreign – at a time when we can least afford it. Many of the government-linked investment companies and its other companies are in massive debt – not least because their appointed heads are inexperienced and ill-informed of their firms’ operations. Their performance will not be scrutinised with the curtailing of Parliament and the banning of political activities. The dire straits of the economy could even lead to their collapse like 1MDB.
An FMM-MIER business confidence survey in August revealed that 42% of respondents in manufacturing plan to lay off up to 30% of their staff by the end of the year. Hotels, entertainment outlets, restaurants and the construction sector have all been hit as well.
Doing away with ‘politics’ would effectively mean shutting out the grievances of the poor and the many now unemployed, whose voices might otherwise be heard in Parliament through their elected representatives.
Emergency rule would allow the executive to enact ordinances without parliamentary approval. These ordinances could even violate basic rights. It could also result in the people’s freedom and their daily normal activities being further curbed.
Emergency rule would undermine the system of checks and balances between Parliament, the judiciary and the executive. Press freedom could also be compromised if such checks and balances are curbed. How would the lack of oversight, especially in the spending of public funds, help in the fight against the pandemic?
Though it might be argued the declaration will allow the federal government to intervene in measures to curb the pandemic at the state level, there is no need for an emergency declaration to handle this. The public healthcare services and security forces are already under federal control. In fact, our existing laws are more than enough to cope with the pandemic.
The real problems have been cabinet incompetence, poor communications and double standards in enforcement. Minister Khairuddin Aman Razali, for example, has just been let off the hook despite not observing quarantine upon his return from Turkey.
A healthcare crisis has to be fought with medical means, effective communications and strong public support. New Zealand, which has just held a general election, is a shining example of what is possible when able leadership is combined with effective communication skills and public backing. The country succeeded in reducing the number of Covid-19 cases to a minimum – without the need to sacrifice democratic norms. In fact, the incumbent Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, triumphed with the largest majority for her party in 50 years.
Suspending Parliament would be easy. But the danger of an emergency declaration is that such concentrated powers are hard to give up, and they perpetuate indefinite dictatorial rule.
Through its decision to seek emergency rule, Muhyiddin’s cabinet reveals it lacks the confidence and the people’s mandate to rule under democratic norms and now has to resort to a sledgehammer approach.
Aliran urges all Malaysians not to allow darkness to envelop the land. Instead, we should loudly and persistently call on all concerned to uphold – not crush – parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.Aliran executive committee
23 October 2020