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Declaration of emergency in our history

Published
Modified 12 Jan 2021, 4:19 am

Editor's note: This article was published on Oct 23, 2020. Another proclaimation of emergency - one that suspends elections and Parliament - will be in force from Jan 12, 2021 until Aug 1, 2021. 

Malaysia has seen emergencies being declared during times of war, public disorder, political crisis and national disaster.

Malaysiakini looks at some examples when an emergency was declared in our past.

Communist insurgency (1948-1960)

The best-known emergency period involved Malaya’s battles with the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA).

This gave the colonial, and subsequently, the Malayan government sweeping powers to ban a number of political parties, detain suspected communist insurgents and enact war.

Malaya's first general election in August 1959 and the first Parliament sitting in September 1959 was held under the emergency period.

Confrontation (1964)

On Sept 3, 1964, the then Tunku Abdul Rahman administration proclaimed the first post-independence emergency in the wake of Indonesia’s aggression.

The Emergency (Essential Powers) Act 1964 was passed by Parliament which gave the Yang di-Pertuan Agong powers to enact emergency regulations to allow property seizures, conduct searches and make arrests.

An example of a subsequent regulation is the Emergency (Criminal Trials) Regulations 1964 to expedite criminal trials.

Sarawak (1966)

Kuala Lumpur put Sarawak in a state of emergency on Sept 14, 1966, in a bid to remove Stephen Kalong Ningkan as chief minister.

The federal Parliament enacted the Emergency (Federal Constitution and constitution of Sarawak) Act 1966 granting the Sarawak governor absolute legislative powers and the power to convene the Council Negri without the advice of the chief minister.

When the Council Negri was convened on Sept 23, 1966, a vote of no-confidence was passed and Kalong Ningkan was removed as chief minister.

Photo: Stephen Kalong Ningkan

May 13 riots (1969)

Racial riots occurred after elections on May 10, 1969. Emergency was proclaimed on May 15, 1969, at a time when Parliament was already dissolved.

The Agong enacted Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 1 1969, delegating executive and legislative powers to the National Operations Council (Mageran).

Mageran, in turn, enacted the powerful Emergency (Public Order and Crime Prevention) Ordinance 1969, which allowed for detention without trial.

Parliament was only reconvened on Feb 20, 1971 - almost two years after the election.

Kelantan (1977)

Emergency was proclaimed on Nov 8, 1977, due to political violence in Kelantan after Mohamed Nasir refused to step down as menteri besar. 

Parliament subsequently passed the Emergency Powers (Kelantan) Act 1977 giving executive control of the state to a director of government appointed by the prime minister, while the sultan, who was also the Agong at the time, held legislative power.

Mohamed would remain nominally as menteri besar until the March 1978 Kelantan elections.

Haze emergencies (1997, 2005 and 2013)

Not all emergencies have to do with granting special legislative or executive powers.

In 1997, 2005 and 2013, emergencies had to be declared in specific regions within Sarawak, Selangor and Johor respectively when air pollution reached off-the-chart levels.

These were for administrative purposes to force people to stay home and the closure of non-essential public services and private enterprises.