The Political Influence of Malaysian Lockdown | The White Flag Movement, Government Corruption and the Misuse of Power

The Political Influence of Malaysian Lockdown | The White Flag Movement, Government Corruption and the Misuse of Power

With a large spike of over 13,000 cases over the last few weeks days, Malaysia is currently undergoing its third national Movement Control Order (MCO) to slow the spread of Covid-19. All non-essential businesses have been shut down and residents cannot leave their homes other than for necessities, a decision that has cost the economy 1 billion Malaysian ringgit a day.

Without work, there has been an economic rescission, leading to lower-income households struggling with poverty as well as mental health issues.

While the governing coalition Perikatan Nasional lead by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, state they seek to end the lockdown, they may also be taking advantage of the chaos it has caused to secure their rather unstable government.

The Current Parliament

Malaysia is currently in a state of emergency which was declared by Agong (King) Abdullah of Pahang in January. This is the second time that a state of emergency has been declared in Malaysian history, the first being in 1963 during race riots.

The state of emergency means that the Malaysian parliament is suspended and will remain so until July 26th. Within this time the government is allowed to introduce temporary laws without approval from parliament. These laws will be implemented over the emergency without direct challenge from the opposition.

“The constitution is more or less suspended, as a substantial part of it can be overridden by emergency law,” said Nik Ahmad Kamal Nik Mahmood, a legal expert from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

It also means that the government can clamp down with harder punishments relating to covid-19. The opposition states that this allows the Prime Minister to rule on a whim and potentially penalize those critical of his rule whether they be politicians or the media.

The Concern of Parliament Majority

While removing this vehicle for democracy might initially appear to be a tactic used to tackle the pandemic, it appears that there might be more sinister motives in play… Could this have been an effort to prevent opposing parties from having their say?

The pandemic struck Malaysia right after a recent political crisis that occurred at the beginning of March 2020 where the previous Pakatan Harapan coalition government was dissolved.

The Pakatan Harapan coalition was ousted when it lost its majority of MPs due to a faction, led by Muhyiddin, “hopping” to the opposition, which would give them enough seats in parliament to become the leading party.

While this would enable Muhyiddin to become Prime Minister, his ‘backdoor’ government is now on thin ice.

Muhyiddin had already attempted to declare a state of emergency in October 2020, but the request was rejected by the Agong. He later succeeded in having this declared during the elections in the Bugaya Constituency of Sabah and The Gerik Constituency of Perak, where he would often cite the spike in Covid-19 cases as a serious threat for people’s health to gather in areas where they could vote.

Clearly, it is not difficult to see how Muhyiddin’s government will benefit from this state of emergency. Perikatan Nasional, who was not democratically elected, now cannot be ousted from power and have the capacity to silence dissenting voices.

Elections are currently due to be held in 2023 however there has been pressure for an early set of elections that would install a democratically elected government. Muhyiddin has said he is committed to holding polls once it is safe, but many believe that the constant state of emergency and lockdowns are at least in part an attempt to stall for time.

With all this being said, the government is already seeing signs of instability. One of the major parties which make up the current coalition, The United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) has only recently announced that it plans to withdraw from the coalition and that they believe Muhyiddin should step down.

Long-time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has also stated that he has made up a majority party and wishes for the Agong to approve it. This has not happened yet due to the social distancing rules and certain MPs remain sceptical of Anwar’s claim.

What Affect Has This Had On The Malaysian Public?

Malaysia has been into its third nationwide lockdown for over five weeks due to a spike in covid cases. Despite this, cases continue, with the country recently setting a record of 13,000 new cases in three straight days.

Front liners in hospitals are struggling to treat people with an overwhelming number of patients. In an anonymous interview with Projek Bangsa Malaysia, front-line workers talked about how 1 in 10 Malaysians have likely been infected with the virus, that many of them are young, how they were running short on resources (like oxygen and beds) and had to choose which patients they prioritized.

They claim that the government has not implemented a “proper lockdown” with “proper financial aid”.

Whatever lockdown we are doing now it’s not addressing the main root of the problem, the main source of the infections. The lockdown is only involving those sectors that are not causing the rise of cases. The rise of the cases lies on the industries that are not being locked down“.

Projek Bangsa Malaysia – Interview With Front Line Workers

The lack of employment in the non-essential sectors has also meant that many Malaysians have suffered from unemployment or reduced incomes. A pilot for example was forced to quit his job due to the lack of travel in the lockdowns and has now resorted to selling food on the roadside to support his family.

Worsening mental health has been on the rise too, with an average of three daily suicides this year, in which half of these cases have comprised of young people, aged 15-18.

“There is a huge underreporting of suicide cases because there is still so much stigma about mental health in Malaysia”.

Anita Abu Bhakar, Mental Illness Awareness  

The White and Black Flags

For much of Malaysia’s Public, its government’s aid has not been enough.

This has spurred an online movement called #BenderaPutih or White Flag, in which Malaysians in need of aid can fly a white flag (which is often just a white t-shirt on a stick) if they need medical or financial aid.

The movement was started by politician and entrepreneur Nik Faizah Nik Othman who posted on Facebook for people to raise a white flag if they need help.  She says, “Raising a white flag is an alternative for those who need help and would like to alert their neighbours and community to provide them with immediate assistance”.

Her post soon went viral with over 20,000 shares. The movement has found a fair amount of success with wealthier members of the public sharing and providing food to those that are in need.

An app was later created by university students called Sambal SOS where people can see a map marked with nearby foodbanks and emergency centres.

This has also led to the emergence of the Black Flag Movement, to express dissatisfaction with the government and for Muhyiddin to step down – a movement that has been promoted by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

These movements have faced backlash from authorities and government supporters. A family in Kuantan who was flying a white flag was told to take them down or be reprimanded by the police by a person only described as a ‘local leader’. While the police have not said that the movements are illegal, they are investigating the black flag movements for having alleged ‘seditious elements’ against the government.

What is next for Malaysia

In response to the cries for the better aid, Malaysia has managed to secure and distribute a greater number of vaccines. As of the 15th of July, Malaysia has been managed to produce 400,000 doses a day, some of the fastest numbers in the entire world. The current goal is to have 40 percent of adults vaccinated by August and 60 percent by September.  National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme Coordinating Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin stated in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald that majority of doses came from a renegotiation with Fizer.

For many Malaysians however, the situation is still grim, and it feels that the government is not doing enough due to the constant politicking. The lack of a standing parliament has led to less transparency in the leading coalition and a diminished chance for them to be held accountable. With UMNO withdrawing support, the current government may soon see a change in hands yet again but for now, we can only hope that the Malaysian people stay strong and united through such a dark time.

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