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Like many Southeast Asian states, Malaysia is now in the midst of a massive surge in COVID-19 cases. In fact, Southeast Asia has now become an epicenter of the global pandemic. Indonesia is recording the most COVID-19 new cases per day—and the country’s actual figures are probably an undercount, since testing is limiting. Once-touted success stories like Thailand and Vietnam have faced major rises in cases in the last month, and war-torn Myanmar is suffering from the unchecked spread of the virus. Malaysia itself is reporting roughly twelve thousand cases per day, the highest per capita average in Southeast Asia.
But unlike every other Southeast Asian state save Myanmar, Malaysia faces not only the full front of the pandemic but also chaotic government from top leaders, public health officials, and economic officials. This chaos is badly undermining the approach to the pandemic, with leaders failing to unite to create a coherent response. Parliament, suspended under emergency law, has not met in months, and the legislature’s inability to convene, combined with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s increasingly autocratic tactics, now puts both Malaysia’s hard-fought democracy and Malaysians’ public health at great risk.
For more on Malaysia’s COVID-19 disaster, see my new World Politics Review article.