KUALA LUMPUR – The Malaysian government is abusing the state of emergency, while at the same time failing to control the Covid-19 pandemic, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim claimed on Sunday (June 6).
Speaking in a special online address after his Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s virtual annual congress was stopped by the authorities, he said the government is behaving like “samseng” (gangsters) with critics being detained.
The government has asked that the three-day congress be halted on Friday evening, although it was approved earlier.
“Instead of using the emergency powers to speed up administrative processes, they are being used to threaten and arrest government critics,” he said in the address aired on Facebook. “Anyone who criticises the government, they are detained. What is this? A country run by samseng (gangsters).”
Police on Friday arrested a Twitter user under the Emergency Ordinance for reportedly questioning the government’s RM70 million (S$22.6 million) allocation to develop the Covid-19 vaccine website.
Peaceful protesters, including the youth, have also been detained and questioned by the police in the last few months.
Malaysia is battling its deadliest wave of Covid-19 in the last few months, with daily cases hitting a record 9,020 last week (May 29) and logging a record number of daily deaths of 126 on Wednesday.
With the health crisis and unemployment dominating conversation, and Parliament sittings suspended since mid-January when the emergency was declared, the opposition has been pointing fingers at the government’s flailing response to Covid-19.
Datuk Seri Anwar on Sunday criticised the Muhyiddin Yassin administration for failing to use the emergency powers to bolster the battle against Covid-19 or ramp up vaccinations, casting doubt on a target to achieve herd immunity by December.
“Deaths are increasing. Patients in the intensive care units are increasing. Positive Covid-19 cases are up, but testing is low,” he said.
The government has also come under fire after thousands faced technical problems when registering online for the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
The congress that started on Friday morning with speeches by several leaders, was ordered to stop that same evening.
PKR secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution said the National Security Council (NSC), a body headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin which decides on Covid-19 protocols, told PKR to postpone its virtual congress because “non-essential social activities” were not allowed.
Social activities are banned under an ongoing lockdown from June 1 to June 14, but online conferences and meetings are meant to be allowed to take place.
PKR is not the only party affected.
Umno’s application to hold its triennial elections has also been blocked by the NSC due to the pandemic, the Malaysiakini news website reported on Saturday, citing sources.
The PKR annual meeting was held as Mr Anwar is trying to solidify his base after the shock defection last year of the party’s number two Azmin Ali and a group of lawmakers which spiked internal mistrust.
Mr Anwar also leads the three-party Pakatan Harapan opposition alliance, with his allies casting their eyes at other options to lead them back to power.
Since last year, PKR has lost 15 MPs and six assemblymen to Tan Sri Muhyiddin’s ruling Perikatan Nasional (PN) alliance.
PKR currently has 35 MPs out of 222 in Parliament.
Its ally Democratic Action Party, with 42 MPs, has not ruled out cooperating with Umno, which has quit the PN alliance.
Mr Anwar, 73, said PKR could work with “former enemies” to win back political control.
“In this current situation, we do not have the luxury of being too rigid in rejecting all forms of cooperation,” he said.
“Even now as Pakatan Harapan, we are ready to cooperate with all our friends from opposition parties, but do not try to seize power or continue being greedy, practice cronyism, giving contracts without tender, and so on.” Mr Anwar last year tried, but failed, to cobble an alliance with a group of Umno lawmakers.
“We have to be open-minded and work together to save the country. The country can no longer go on like this because the current captain and his ship have lost direction,” he said.