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Malaysian king steps up to tackle COVID crisis as political unrest mounts

Police confirmed the man’s arrest and the seizure of his mobile phone, modem and router.

If charged and convicted he could face a jail term of up to three years, a fine of up to 100,000 Malaysian ringgit ($31,400) or both.

The government can also seize property and other resources under the temporary emergency ordinances and members of the military are granted “all the powers of a police officer”.

But with Muhyiddin’s already slim parliamentary majority facing collapse if the cornerstone party of his alliance, the United Malays National Organisation, follows through on a threat to withdraw its support, some familiar faces have arrived at the Istana Negara royal palace as the king calls in party leaders across the political spectrum. UMNO president Ahmad Zahid met with the king on Friday.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was there on Wednesday along with others from his Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope). Former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad, who despite being in his mid-90s, is heading another new political organisation, also visited.

Anwar Ibrahim is among the political leaders who have visited the royal palace in the past two days.

Anwar Ibrahim is among the political leaders who have visited the royal palace in the past two days.Credit:Bloomberg

There has been talk of a new unity government being formed and Mahathir proposed a “national operations council” take over as it did during Malaysia’s last emergency following race riots in 1969. He offered to lead the council which would feature parties from both sides of the divide, but was told by the king it was a decision for the government.

Speaking about his own audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as the monarch is known, Anwar said he didn’t discuss forming a new government, only that he “pleaded with the king to prevent the continuation of the emergency”.

The king also met with Muhyiddin, as he does weekly before cabinet meetings, and will on Wednesday meet the country’s eight other sultans for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The special rulers’ meeting will be only the second since he ascended to the throne in January 2019 and has been called to discuss the COVID-19 crisis and Malaysia’s response to it.

Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is consulting political party leaders.

Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is consulting political party leaders.Credit:AP

It was scheduled as US credit rating agency Fitch Ratings forecasts “a worsening of political risks due to widespread and growing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak”.

“Furthermore, rising public anger is likely to affect the unity of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, and we expect an escalating blame game over the issue ahead of promised elections,” the agency said.

“Risks of protests are also rising as a result, and elections not being held over the coming months could serve as a spark for Malaysians to take to the streets.“

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There are major worries, however, about an election being a super-spreader event.

The next national elections are not due until 2023 but Muhyiddin has said he will turn to voters when Malaysia has overcome the virus.

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