Malaysia’s King Begins Meetings with Top Politicians on COVID-19 Crisis

Hadi Azmi
Kuala Lumpur
2021-06-09
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Malaysia’s King Begins Meetings with Top Politicians on COVID-19 Crisis Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim waves to reporters outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur after his meeting there with King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah, June 9, 2021.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim urged the king Wednesday not to extend a coronavirus emergency, as the monarch began a series of meetings with leaders from across the political spectrum to discuss the COVID-19 crisis amid public frustration over it.

King Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah told Anwar he had to listen to the prime minister in deciding whether to extend a national emergency – which the monarch had declared in mid-January – beyond its Aug. 1 expiry date, Anwar conveyed to reporters afterwards.

“I gave my view that continuing the emergency will cause losses to the country, and the current situation with COVID-19 will adversely affect the economy especially to the commoners, and how I see that all the steps that can be implemented do not need for an emergency to be in place,” Anwar, said upon emerging from the National Palace.

“So, I pleaded to His Majesty to restrict the extension as much as possible, to which His Majesty was accurate in saying that we must adhere to the laws of the constitutional monarchy and follow the advice of the prime minister,” added Anwar, who leads the People’s Justice Party and the Pakatan Harapan bloc.

Malaysia’s constitution states that the king “shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet or of a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet, except as otherwise provided by the Constitution.”

Next Wednesday, the National Palace will host all nine of the Malay rulers for a special discussion about the COVID-19 pandemic, the palace announced.

It will be the second time that the rulers convene to discuss the issue. When they last met in October 2020, they rejected Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s initial request at the time for declaring an emergency to combat the pandemic.

Earlier this year, Anwar and other leaders from the opposition appealed to the king through letters to revoke his emergency declaration. They also sought the monarch’s consent in allowing parliament to re-convene after it was suspended alongside the proclamation of a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as Muhyiddin, Malaysia’s unelected PM, imposed a new nationwide lockdown last week amid surging COVID-19 cases, Azalina Othman Said, the deputy speaker of parliament and a member of the UMNO party, a partner in the ruling coalition, was among those calling for the legislature to be reconvened. 

On Wednesday morning, the king held an audience with Muhyiddin at the palace.  

“The pre-Cabinet meeting is among weekly activities or main routine for Sultan Abdullah to discuss and exchange views with the Prime Minister concerning matters and issues relating to government,” the palace said in a statement.

After Anwar’s visit to the palace, the leaders of the other two political parties under the Pakatan Harapan – Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party and Mohamad Sabu of Amanah – raised the issue of parliament re-convening during their separate meetings with the king.

“His Majesty is the people’s hope because the parliament is not in session now and there is no space for the people to have their grievances heard,” Lim said afterwards.

“I asked that parliament be reopened, and reconvened like in the U.K. where in the middle of the worst pandemic, parliament is meeting more often because the people want to know what the government’s plan is to overcome COVID-19,” Mohamad said.

On Thursday, the king is scheduled to meet with Mahathir Mohamad, the former two-time prime minister who now leads Pejuang party. The monarch also has meetings set up with the leader of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) on Friday, and with leaders of GPS, the ruling party in Sarawak state, on June 14.

Awang Azman Awang Pawi, a political analyst from the University of Malaya, applauded the king’s action in granting audiences with various political leader to hear the concerns of the Malaysian people.

“The people wish that the royal institution, including the king, take some action for the sake of the interest and livelihood of the people,” Awang Azman told BenarNews.

In recent months, voices have grown louder on social media seeking the rulers’ intervention in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, which has adversely affected the lives of Malaysians.

As of Wednesday, Malaysia recorded 6,239 new cases of COVID-19 to bring the nation’s cumulative total to nearly 634,000 cases since the virus was first detected here in early 2020. To date, 3,611 people in the country have died of the disease.

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