Emergency imposed in Malaysia over virus is reprieve for PM

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An electronic shop worker wearing a face mask watches a live broadcast of Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at a shopping outlet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Malaysia's king Tuesday approved a coronavirus emergency that will prorogue parliament and halt any bids to seek a general election in a political reprieve for embattled Muhyiddin. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia has declared a coronavirus emergency that will suspend Parliament at least until August and halt any bids to seek a general election, but critics charged it was a political move by embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to stay in power.

The palace said in a statement Tuesday that King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah consented Monday to Muhyiddin's proposal for an emergency until Aug. 1 to curb the virus spread, which has reached a critical level.

In a televised speech, Muhyiddin assured citizens that the emergency was “not a military coup and a curfew will not be enforced.” He said his civilian government will remain in charge and that Malaysia is still “open for business."

The emergency declaration came just a day before millions of people in Malaysia's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, the administrative capita, Putrajaya, and five high-risk states return to a near-lockdown for two weeks.

Opposition lawmakers, analysts and critics said the emergency appeared aimed at halting the collapse of Muhyiddin's government amid threats by the United Malays National Organization, the largest party in his ruling coalition, to withdraw support to force an early general election.

“If this is the true underlying reason, the declaration of a national emergency is not only an overkill but an abuse of executive power that places the country at great peril," according to a joint statement by activist groups and nongovernmental organizations.

Muhyiddin took power in March after instigating the collapse of the reformist alliance that won 2018 elections and joined with the opposition to form a Malay-centric government. But his government is shaky with a razor-thin majority in Parliament.

A second UMNO lawmaker, Nazri Aziz, announced later Tuesday that he woúld no longer support Muhyiddin. With more UMNO lawmakers expected to follow suit, he said the emergency was an admission of defeat by Muhyiddin. Many in the UMNO are unhappy that the party is playing second fiddle to Muhyiddin's own Malay party.