By Joseph Sipalan
KUALALUMPUR – Malaysia’s king started a series of meetings with leaders of political parties on Wednesday, amid public discontent over the government’s handling of a coronavirus crisis that has forced the nation into a third lockdown.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s administration imposed strict COVID-19 measures from June 1-14 to address a surge in infections and deaths, on top of an ongoing national emergency to curb the spread of the disease.
But those have led to public frustration over a perceived slow rollout of vaccinations, haphazard policymaking and uneven enforcement of coronavirus curbs that critics say royalty and elites have been allowed to skirt.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who spent an hour on Wednesday with King Al-Sultan Abdullah, said the national emergency has done more harm than good.
“We presented our view that allowing this emergency to continue will lead to losses to the country,” Anwar told reporters.
“It does not help with the handling of COVID and it effects the economy, especially those in the lower rungs of society.”
Muhyiddin was the first to meet with the king on Wednesday, ahead of his weekly cabinet meeting. Other political leaders are expected at the palace over the next few days, including ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad.
In a statement, the national palace said the king has convened a special meeting of the council of rulers on Wednesday to discuss efforts to battle the epidemic during the emergency.
King Al-Sultan Abdullah heeded Muhyiddin’s request in January to declare a national emergency to curb the spread of COVID-19, a move the opposition said was an attempt by the premier to shore up his position amid a power struggle.
With nearly 634,000 cases among its 32 million people, Malaysia has the highest number of infections per capita in Southeast Asia.