Malaysia's king declares state of emergency to curb spread of COVID-19

Malaysia's king declares state of emergency to curb spread of COVID-19

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's king Al-Sultan Abdullah declared a nationwide state of emergency on Tuesday to curb the spread of COVID-19, a move that bolsters Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's precarious hold on power, and forestalls any attempt by opponents to force an early election.

In a televised address on Tuesday, Muhyiddin said the parliament will be suspended for a stipulated period of time and that elections would not be held in the Southeast Asian nation during the emergency, which could last until Aug. 1.

"Let me assure you, the civilian government will continue to function. The emergency proclaimed by the king is not a military coup and curfew will not be enforced," Muhyiddin said in an attempt to dispel alarm over the measures.

The move should reduce, at least for now, some of the political uncertainty hovering over Muhyiddin since his unelected alliance came to power with a razor thin majority in March last year following the collapse of the previous coalition led by Malaysia's veteran leader Mahathir Mohamad.

Some lawmakers in the ruling coalition have pulled support for the premier and have called for early elections, while opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said last year that he had a majority to form a new government.

Muhyiddin assured people that elections would take place once a new independent committee declares that the pandemic is over and it is safe to hold polls.

Under emergency rule, his government can introduce laws without parliamentary approval.

On Monday, Muhyiddin announced a nationwide travel ban and a 14-day lockdown in the capital Kuala Lumpur and five states, saying the healthcare system for the country of 32 million people was at a breaking point.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's benchmark share index fell as much as 1.6% after the emergency announcement.