JAKARTA, Indonesia

In a rare public rebuke, the king of Malaysia on Thursday criticized the government for lifting emergency COVID-19 regulations without his approval, sparking calls for the country’s crisis-hit premier to step down.

“His Majesty Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah is deeply saddened by the statement made in parliament on July 26 that the government has revoked all emergency ordinances proclaimed by His Majesty throughout the state of emergency period, while the revocation has not been consented to by His Majesty,” said Ahmad Fadil Shamsuddin, a palace official, in a written statement.

Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan declared earlier this week that the government will revoke all emergency laws and not ask the king to extend the COVID-19 emergency ending on Aug. 1.

The sudden announcement sparked fear and anger in a country that, like many others in Southeast Asia, is in the midst of a growing COVID-19 wave driven by the highly infectious Delta variant.

Malaysia’s virus caseload is now above 1 million and the death toll over 8,500, with daily figures hitting record highs in recent days.

This is the first time that the revered monarch has openly criticized Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government, mounting further pressure on a ruling coalition already dealing with internal rifts.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called for Muhyiddin to quit, accusing the government of “violating the constitution by insulting the king’s institution.”

“We have no choice but to demand the prime minister’s resignation,” he said.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy in which the king has a largely ceremonial role, carrying out his duties with advice from the prime minister and Cabinet.

The king, however, also has the power to decide if an emergency should be declared.

*Writing by Maria Elisa Hospita

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