The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) is troubled by several reports that a state of emergency is expected to be announced within the next few days. A state of emergency of the kind we have seen before is of great concern at this time for several reasons.
First, it will hamper business sentiment, further worsening the already negative economic outlook following events of the year. The Malaysian economy has contracted for the first time since the Global Financial Crisis as a result of COVID-19, affecting businesses and the B40 most critically. A national emergency will only further exacerbate the hardship faced by small business owners, increase unemployment and threaten economic growth.
Second, a suspension of Parliament reduces accountability in government decision-making, diverts enormous powers to the Executive and further undermines the government’s legitimacy. In times of crisis, Malaysians need to be reassured that the institutions empowered by the Constitution and the representatives that Malaysians elect work in their best interests. A usurpation of this trust between citizens and government will have dire consequences on Malaysian democracy as a whole.
Third, the upcoming Budget 2021 expected to be tabled and passed will not go through parliamentary scrutiny if parliament is suspended. The annual Budget is a significant document that determines public expenditure for the following financial year and elected representatives must be given the opportunity to view, debate and pass it into being on the grounds of transparency, rule of law, and accountability.
It is true that the public health crisis has worsened as new COVID-19 infections continue to rise every day and our healthcare facilities continue to be stretched. However, even a crisis such as this does not warrant a suspension of democratic institutions. Malaysia already has the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) for situations such as this.
Furthermore, if businesses are allowed to operate as usual and no curfews will be imposed, the speculated reason for the Emergency is that it is being imposed for political reasons, which erodes public trust in the government of the day. Absolute power vested in the Executive is a slippery slope that can lead to further suspension of civil liberties and good governance practices.
Instead of an Emergency, efforts and resources can be better diverted to managing the public health crisis. Federal-state government coordination should improve, inter-agency and inter-Ministry cooperation should be enhanced, more resources should be dedicated to public health, and data should be used to identify high-risk areas.
Commenting on these developments, IDEAS CEO Tricia Yeoh says, “It is important now more than ever that parliamentary democracy and the rule of law are upheld, to ensure that the necessary checks and balances remain. It is hoped that our country’s leaders will respect our system of parliamentary democracy and seek an alternative solution instead of invoking Article 150 of the Federal Constitution, which could lead to unnecessary panic.”
About Tricia-She is a PhD candidate at the School of Politics, History and International Relations at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, examining federal-state relations and opposition subnational durability within dominant party authoritarian regimes. She is qualified in Econometrics and Marketing from Monash University, and holds a MSc. in Research Methods in Psychology from the University of Warwick. She sits on the IDEAS Berhad Board (for charitable projects) and is a Director of the Institute of Youth Research (under the Ministry of Youth and Sports).