On 23 October, it was widely reported that the Cabinet approved a suggestion for the Prime Minister to advise the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) to declare a state of Emergency in the country, as a means to curb COVID-19. The move met with criticism from many quarters; some alleged that the predominant objective for the Emergency declaration was nothing more than a political move to suspend the Parliament.
Whatever the motive, we cannot deny the fact that we as a nation are currently facing a situation never before encountered. There is no precedent in this country, legal or political, as to the most effective way to deal with a disease that has so far taken 229 lives and continues to threaten our lives and livelihoods. Some have argued that a state of Emergency is the right move, whilst others disagreed and called for less extreme measures.
On 25 October, after consulting the Malay Rulers, the YDPA issued a statement stating that while there is an urgent need to address the COVID-19 situation in this country, a declaration of Emergency is not necessary for the time being. Thus, the constitutional monarch has allayed the concerns of those who opposed the move.
There is an important lesson to be learnt from this episode. When dealing with such unprecedented matters, the powers that be must take into account all relevant factors. They must strive to find a balance between saving lives and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on the one hand, and protecting our fundamental rights and the spirit of our Constitution on the other.
The right to life is as important as any other rights. Human rights and democratic principles would be meaningless if there is no life to be preserved and protected in the first place. As such, striking such a balance is an unenviable task, but one that has to be done.
Recent events in Sabah have clearly demonstrated that, in our quest to uphold democracy while mitigating COVID-19, even the best preventive measures are useless if we do not get our act together. Excessive politicking and the failure to adhere to Standard Operating Procedures, inter alia, have contributed to the third wave of COVID-19 nationwide and more worryingly, have condemned the people in the poorest state of Malaysia to further hardship. For some, this means death.
We all have a role to play in this situation.
To echo the wise advice from the YDPA, I urge all parties to stop politicking, to put aside their differences, and to put on hold their political ambitions or agenda. Instead, now is the time for us to come together to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 does not spiral out of control.
Come up with constructive proposals that will not plunge the country into further unnecessary political, social, and economic turmoil. To achieve this end, all parties should at least consider the following:
- Cease all political wrangling.
- Find a workable compromise and ensure that a budget is passed so that we would have funds to combat the pandemic.
- Find a legal and practical solution to avoid having a General Election in the coming months, until the pandemic is under control.
Lest we forget, “whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world”.
I urge all Malaysians to unite, to save our people.