Malaysia's Mahathir urges king to lift virus emergency

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad delivered a petition to the national palace Tuesday urging the king to revoke a Covid-19 state of emergency, saying it had transformed the country into a "dictatorship".

The monarch declared the nationwide emergency in January, on the advice of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in a bid to fight the coronavirus as cases spiraled out of control.

But parliament was also suspended, prompting critics to accuse Muhyiddin of using the virus crisis to cling to power after allies in his crisis-wracked ruling coalition deserted him.

On Tuesday, 95-year-old Mahathir -- who was prime minister until his government collapsed amid infighting about a year ago -- brought a petition with over 39,000 signatures to the national palace in Kuala Lumpur.

The petition, delivered along with other opposition politicians, warned the emergency was damaging the economy, Malaysia's image internationally, and democracy.

Before heading to the palace, Mahathir warned in a blog post the emergency was undermining the rule of law, and the country was being ruled by decree.

"The voice of the people in a functioning democracy is via parliament. But it is not open," wrote Mahathir, who was prime minister twice, from 1981 to 2003 and 2018 to 2020.

"The only description we can make of this government is that it is a dictatorship."

He also said the emergency was "about a weak government wanting to stay in power", and not about fighting Covid-19.

Supporters of the state of emergency, which runs until August 1, argue it is needed to channel extra resources to fighting the outbreak.

Muhyiddin, who came to power in March last year without an election following the collapse of Mahathir's government, has vowed to hold national polls once the pandemic is over.

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