Darurat: An Escalation in Malaysia’s Political Turmoil

In recent months, the Government has been facing backlash.There have been allegations of double standards between the politicians and the ‘rakyat’ where no further actions were taken for flouting mandatory quarantine rules and the possibility of an emergency just made it worst.

Suddenly on October 23rd 2020, Malaysian people were shocked as it was then rumoured by anonymous sources from Strait Times and The Star that the Cabinet had an executive meeting at 9.30 a.m. in the Perdana Putra, Putrajaya. The Cabined had tabled a decision to declare an Emergency Proclamation or ‘Darurat’ in Bahasa Malaysia in one of their discussions.It soon escalated as there were reports of the sighting of the Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in palace for an audience with Yang di-Pertuan Agong-the king. Afterwards, the king called a meeting with the Conference of Rulers to discuss the request to declare a state of emergency by the Prime Minister and his fellow ministers.

What is ‘Darurat’?

Under Article 150 of the Malaysian Constitution that will be read with article 40, only the king can declare a state of emergency or Darurat in Bahasa Malaysia with the advice of the Prime Minister and the cabinet. Emergency can only be imposed when there are possible threats to public safety. Thus, during this Darurat, the Federal Government is given special powers to execute laws or Emergency Ordinance (EO) and policies in order to combat these threats. The emergency ordinance can be passed without going through parliamentary votes and cannot be challenged by the courts.

The ruling government to an extent is also allowed to pass laws that bypass jurisdiction of the state government. However, laws that are related to the rights and traditions of the Muslims, Malays or the Ethnic people cannot be evoked.  In the past, Malaysia has declared ‘Darurat’ as well, such as the national state of emergency declared during the 13th May 1969 Riot. Darurat in general gives the Federal Government almost complete control over the laws and public policies with little to no jurisdiction in the name of encountering grave threats.

The Battle Lines Are Drawn at the ‘Darurat’ Proposal

There are wide ranging opinions on imposing a state of emergency. Mohammed Apandi Ali, the ex-attorney general of Malaysia from 2015 – 2018, bashed critiques as  he argued that other countries also declared state of emergency to combat the rising cases of COVID-19 and he also quoted the constitution such as under Clause (2C) and Part (5) of the Article 150 of the constitution where the Parliament can still function as usual in the State of Emergency which suggests that the political and economic landscape of Malaysia will still survive. Malaysia is  facing political instability since Pakatan Harapan government fell down.Due to which some of the federal ministers have  made statements to give support to declare a state of emergency such as Deputy Minister of Energy and Natural Resources,Ali Biju and Senior Minister for Economy, Datuk Seri Azmin Ali as they claimed it is necessary to declare ‘darurat’ to fight the pandemic and revive the economy which requires a stable political landscape.

On the other side of the coin, various parties and influential individuals used public sentiments, polls and even petitions to take a stance against the possibility of a Darurat. For instance, Political parties such as PUTRA and PKR questioned the real motives of the Perikatan Nasional government as they accused the government of trying to avoid a vote of no confidence against the Prime Minister thus failing the approval of Budget 2021. The opposition leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim adds further by stating that the country will fall into dictatorship if it goes into a state of emergency. He also stated that the only grave emergency or threat is the government itself. Legally speaking, Malaysia already has legal provisions to battle the pandemic such as the National Security Act 2016 and the PCID Act.

From a constitutional standpoint, Tommy Thomas, the former attorney general during Pakatan Harapan’s tenure,wrote that it was ‘unconstitutional’ as the Perikatan Nasional will violate 3 sub articles in Article 150 if the Prime Minister and his cabinet wants to use executive powers during a state of emergency to pass the Budget 2021.To fight COVID-19, Malaysia already has legal provisions to battle the pandemic such as the National Security Act 2016 and the PCID Act.

The Endgame of the Darurat

As tensions escalated, the people waited anxiously for an official announcement from the palace to know the final decision from the meeting between the king and the Conference of Rulers.People breathe a huge sigh of relief as the king decided that he will not be declaring any State of Emergency in the nation as it is unnecessary and the king reminded the politicians to stop politicking and focus on the people’s welfare. Various parties which included the Malaysian Bar, representatives from the government and opposition and academicians hailed the king’s wisdom and decision to not declare Darurat. 

Written by: Lutfil Hadi Rusli