World News

Malaysia declares emergency in eastern region to stop polls amid pandemic

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s king on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in a parliamentary constituency in the eastern state of Sabah to prevent a by-election being held there, citing fears that it could lead to a fresh coronavirus outbreak.

The Southeast Asian nation has seen a sharp spike in cases in recent weeks, with the total number of coronavirus infections rising to more than 50,000 cases on Wednesday.

Sabah, on Borneo island, has been worst-hit by the recent jump, reporting nearly half of the country’s infections, most of which were linked to an election held there in September.

King Al-Sultan Abdullah made the decision to declare a state of emergency in the Batu Sapi constituency on the advice of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and after receiving a briefing by senior government officials, Malaysia’s palace said in a statement.

The king was satisfied that the declaration was necessary “to curb and prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections”, it said, adding that the polls would be held at a later date.

The Batu Sapi by-election was originally set to be held on Dec. 5, following the death of a lawmaker last month.

In a separate televised announcement, Muhyiddin said the emergency declaration was only aimed at stopping the election and assured the public that no additional lockdowns or restrictions on movement would be imposed.

Under Malaysia’s constitution, an election must be called within 60 days of a seat being vacated.

Neither Muhyiddin nor the king stated whether future by-elections could be similarly postponed, after two state and parliamentary lawmakers died in the past week.

National polls could also be triggered if Muhyiddin’s coalition, which holds a slim majority in parliament, fails to muster enough votes to pass its budget later this month. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the budget on Nov. 26.

Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Alex Richardson