By Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's King Al-Sultan Abdullah rejected on Sunday a request by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for him to declare a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus crisis, saying that he did not see the need.
The king's rejection is a major setback for Muhyiddin, who is facing a leadership challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and infighting within his ruling coalition.
Critics have denounced his proposal for emergency rule as an attempt to maintain his grip on power as it would help him avoid a potential showdown in parliament.
A resurgence in coronavirus cases and a pandemic-battered economy has also added to his woes.
"Al-Sultan Abdullah is of the opinion that there is no need at the moment for His Majesty to declare an emergency in the country or in any part of the country of Malaysia," the palace said in a statement.
"His Majesty is confident in the ability of the government under the leadership of the prime minister to continue to implement policies and enforcement efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic."
The king also called for politicians to end any politicking that could destabilise the administration and highlighted the importance of the forthcoming budget, which the government is due to present on Nov. 6.
Muhyiddin's failure to win the house's approval on the budget would be a vote of no-confidence against him, which in turn could trigger an election.
Muhyiddin said the cabinet would discuss the king's rejection of his request.
"I am grateful for His Majesty's trust in the government under my leadership and accept well the advice that the government's stability should not be affected," he said in a statement.
Muhyiddin has been in a precarious position since he took office in March with a two-seat majority. Last month Anwar said that, with the help of administration defectors, he has the parliamentary majority to form a new government.
The king's rejection of the premier's request is unusual but constitutional, analysts and lawyers said.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy in which the king assumes a largely ceremonial role. Under the constitution, the king carries out his duties with the advice of the prime minister and the cabinet. It also gives him the right to decide if an emergency should be declared, based on threats to security, economy or public order.
New Sin Yew, a constitutional lawyer, said that if Muhyiddin had formally advised the king to impose a state of emergency, the monarch would have been obliged to comply.
However, the palace statement said the prime minister had sent the king a "request".
"So today, what the king did was warn against such a proposal, which is entirely within his rights to do," said New.
(Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)