Lost in interpretation


IT HAS been 10 days since the emergency was proclaimed. Its proponents had been putting forth arguments and examples to justify it, while detractors continue to express concern over its necessity.

Chief among the justification is that it had been declared in more than 80 nations as a means to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

In other words, if it is good for 80 nations and more, which includes developed ones, surely it can’t be bad for Malaysia.

But what was not said is that these nations lacked laws and provisions to allow for the restriction and control of movements, prohibiting gatherings, closing down of businesses and premises, roadblocks and imposing fines on those flouting the rules.

That is unlike Malaysia, whereby the first Movement Control Order had proven that all these powers were already vested in the hands of the authorities.

Further to that, other nations needed to secure such powers as they dealt with a populace that held on to their individual rights and freedom religiously.

While Malaysians too have, especially after the 2018 General Election, become more concerned about their individual rights and freedom, they are by and large the types who place the needs of society above self.

Based on this, it is then unnecessary for the emergency to be put in place. But what makes the proclamation discomforting is the suspension of Parliament. It was pointed out by a detractor that none of the 80 and more nations that declared the state of emergency had suspended their Parliaments.

In fact, if New Zealand, one of the now exemplary nations globally and to be used as a yardstick of a successful democracy, had a condition that when it declared its emergency, it must convene parliamentary sitting immediately after.

That places the Malaysian emergency a subject of debate and conjecture, raising suspicion and speculation as to the real reason behind it.

One of the popular opinions is that Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had pushed for it for his political longevity, while his detractors pointed out that he was before that reeling from the loss of majority following withdrawal of support from ally MPs.

Hence, the emergency and suspension of Parliament until Aug 1, mean that Muhyiddin would be able to hold on to his post at least until then.

As it is, there is already a legal move initiated to question whether Muhyiddin, who had lost his majority support, had the locus standi to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to proclaim an Emergency.

While these processes are to be determined by the courts, the political debates on the matter persist, but the emergency had somewhat placed proponents of the emergency a lopsided advantage over the detractors.

For one, in discussing the emergency, all parties need to tread carefully as the proclamation was by the King, even though much of the debate centres on Muhyiddin’s behaviour and alleged manipulations.

The problem is that the advocates are quick to latch on to the fact that the proclamation is the King’s own, taking any debate or question on the emergency into the domain of treason and disrespect for the royal institution.

Given the wide-ranging powers accorded under the emergency, it is very convenient for the advocates, especially the ones hanging on to power through the declaration, to invoke treason whenever the proclamation is being discussed, let alone being questioned.

As it is right now, at least two members of the Cabinet have resorted to invoking treason as a defence when issues were raised towards matters related to the emergency.

Of course, the weaker minded, ambitious down-the-line politicians — who were never known to have much grey matter to propel them into an upward mobility — are loudest when shouting down those on the other side of the political divide.

Given their questionable intellect, invoking treason as their conclusion to ensure the debate ends is probably the only time in their lives that they have the final say.

Little do they realise that their use of the institution’s name, liberally for their political end, had only served to trivialise their own grasp of the issue, and the magnitude and eminence it is supposed to represent.

All they have done is to affirm, in their small minds, that the emergency is to be used by them to have the monopoly and right to interpretation, and if their interpretation is questioned, revert to the treason defence.

Somehow, along the way, they have also managed to equate the criticisms of mannerisms and manoeuvrings of the political elites to that of treason.

It has been said that evil will triumph when good men do nothing. It is probably too dramatic a quote to be used in the Malaysian context.

A paraphrase, darkness will descent when good men can’t speak, sounds better.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.