Malaysia's king declares state of emergency

TESTING: People wait in line to be tested for COVID-19 at a testing station in Klang, Malaysia, on Dec. 2, 2020. Lim Huey Teng/Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia's King Al-Sultan Abdullah on Tuesday declared a state of emergency across the country to curb the spread of COVID-19, after consenting to a request from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who is facing a leadership challenge.

The emergency will last until Aug. 1 or earlier depending on whether coronavirus infections have been brought under control, the palace said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear how the emergency would impact day-to-day activities, but the constitution allows for parliament to be suspended during that period – which could for now put an end to political uncertainties faced by Muhyiddin.

The premier has been in a precarious position since coming to power in March 2020 due to a razor-thin majority in parliament. Some ruling coalition partners have been calling for him to step down and call for early elections.

The palace said Muhyiddin requested the emergency as a proactive measure to curb the number of infections.

"Al-Sultan Abdullah is of the opinion that the spread of COVID-19 is at a critical stage and that there is a need to declare a proclamation of emergency," the palace said.

The king had rejected a similar request from Muhyiddin in October. Opposition leaders had then criticized the request as a move to cling to power.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy in which the king assumes a largely ceremonial role. Under the constitution, the king carries out his duties with the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. It also gives him the right to decide if an emergency should be declared, based on threats to security, economy or public order.

Muhyiddin is scheduled to give a televised address on the emergency at 1 p.m. Guam time.

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

The number of new daily infections hit a record high last week, breaching the 3,000 mark for the first time. Total coronavirus cases passed 138,000 on Monday, with 555 deaths.

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