WE, the undersigned parliamentarians, raise serious concerns that the Malaysian authorities’ far-reaching powers under the current state of emergency risk not only undermining the foundation of Malaysia’s democracy but also leave the door wide open for potential human rights abuses.We, therefore, call for Parliament to be allowed to continue functioning without restrictions.Earlier this year, the king proclaimed a state of emergency, taking effect from January 11 to August 1, citing coronavirus as a threat to the country’s security, economy, and public order.This was followed by the introduction of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021, which grants excessively broad powers to the authorities, while shielding their actions from any meaningful parliamentary or judicial oversight. In particular, the ordinance removes legislative scrutiny and limits judicial authority over officials during the emergency.Section 10 protects the government and their agents appointed to issue directions under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 from legal proceedings in relation to “any act, neglect or default done or omitted… in good faith”, while Sections 14 and 15 suspend the sittings of Parliament and state assemblies until a time set by the king.Section 12(6) also states that a general election will be held only when the king “thinks appropriate.” Further, Section 7 grants the armed forces additional powers, which according to the defence minister will include authority to detain those violating the movement-control order and arrest migrants found entering the country illegally. We would like to remind authorities that, to ensure that emergency measures are not used to crackdown on human rights, or to permanently usurp democratic institutions, they should be necessary and proportionate in addressing the threats they are meant to mitigate, in this instance to curb the spread of Covid-19.Such powers should be temporary, subject to effective legislative and judicial oversight and not be used discriminatorily to target specific groups.Malaysia’s emergency powers clearly do not meet these established international standards and create an environment where government accountability is severely limited, and the abuse of power more likely to occur. As the body through which the will of the people is expressed, Parliament holds a central position in a functioning democracy, and its current suspension effectively removes public participation from the decision-making process.This is particularly worrying at a time when government’s decisions will have long-lasting consequences on the lives of the people. Considering how emergency measures in the region, including in Thailand and the Philippines, have led to restrictions on fundamental freedoms, it is more vital than ever for parliament to function effectively and provide safeguards against any potential misuse of power.Therefore, as democratically elected lawmakers from Southeast Asia, we urge the king, Dewan Rakyat speaker and the prime minister to convene Parliament as soon as possible to ensure government accountability, review the emergency measures, protect human rights, and contribute to major policy decisions.We also call upon the speaker to ensure that parliamentary committees are activated and continue to meet regularly.Parliaments around the world have adopted innovative ways and new online working methods to ensure they continue their essential work during the pandemic that could also be adopted by Malaysia. – February 16, 2021.* This statement contains 89 signatories. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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