Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The king of Malaysia on Tuesday declared a months-long national emergency in a bid to stymie skyrocketing coronavirus infections.
The Palace said in a statement issued by Royal Comptroller Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin that King Al-Sultan Abdullah agreed to the government's request to institute a state of emergency until August following a meeting with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
"Al-Sultan Abdullah is of the view that the spread of COVID-19 in the country is at a very critical stage and there is need to decree an Emergency Proclamation," the statement said, adding that an independent committee of bipartisan members of Parliament will be formed who will decide when the declaration can be lifted.
With nearly 140,000 cases, Malaysia has fared better than many nations amid the pandemic, but the vast majority of those infections were recorded since October when cases began escalating, according to data complied by Johns Hopkins University.
The Asian nation has also reported 555 deaths to the virus, the Baltimore-based school said.
The declaration by the Yassin government comes months after the prime minister encountered calls for his resignation over his handling of the coronavirus and some opposition politicians have voiced concern that the declaration is a way to keep the prime minister in power.
"The proclamation of emergency ... is proven to be purely political in nature," Nga Kor Ming, secretary general of the Democratic Action Party, told Malay Mail. "It is not for the public interest, but aiming to save [Yassin] from losing power and indeed serves as a very dangerous precedent."
By suspending parliament and putting all power in the executive branch, there will be further opportunity for the abuse of power and corruption, he said.
"Our country is facing multiple crises now and our democracy is facing imminent danger," he said. "Proclamation of emergency is not the solution to problem but the beginning of a bigger problem."
Seemingly to assuage such concerns, Yassin said in a televised address that despite parliament being suspended the declaration is not a military coup.
"I would like to stress that the emergency declared by his majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is not a form of military coup," he said. "The curfew will also not be enforced. Instead, during this emergency period, the civilian government will continue to function."
He also said the judiciary will continue to function as normal and "will continue to be the beacon of justice in our country and I will never interfere in the business of the court."