Malaysian PM vaccinated but not safe from political fallout

Malaysian king says Parliament can convene during emergency, opening door to a no-confidence vote

KUALA LUMPUR Newly vaccinated Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin may be protected against Covid-19 but there may be no protection against a no-confidence vote after the King said Parliament could convene during a state of emergency.

He was the first to be given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as part of government efforts to reassure people of the vaccine's safety.

After Mr Muhyiddin was given his shot yesterday in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, a group of health workers were also vaccinated.

"I am confident this vaccine is safe and effective," Mr Muhyiddin said, adding that the public should have faith in his government's efforts to break the chain of Covid-19 infections.

Malaysia has set an ambitious target of vaccinating at least 80 per cent of its 32 million people by February next year.

Malaysia recorded 3,545 infections yesterday, taking the total to 291,774. There were 12 deaths, taking the toll to 1,088.

The vaccination process will be implemented in three phases, with the first expected to run from February to April involving 300,000 medical and 200,000 non-medical front-line workers - including politicians, security personnel and welfare officers.

Around 9.4 million high-risk individuals will be vaccinated in the next phase between April and August, followed by more than 16 million adults aged 18 and older in phase three that will run from May to February next year. Last week, the government said it has secured 66.7 million vaccine doses, enough to more than cover its population.

With the vaccination programme started, Mr Muhyiddin may face another crisis - this time in Parliament.

Malaysia's King Abdullah Ahmad Shah said yesterday that Parliament can convene during a state of emergency, a move that could open the door for the opposition to launch a no-confidence vote to challenge Mr Muhyiddin.

A palace statement said Parliament will resume on a date deemed suitable by the King, taking into consideration the advice of the Prime Minister.

Last month, the King declared a nationwide state of emergency that could last till Aug 1, as Malaysia struggled to control a jump in coronavirus cases after managing to contain infections for most of last year.

But the opposition accused Mr Muhyiddin of using the emergency to retain control during a power struggle, especially after it appeared he may have lost his majority when two government lawmakers said they no longer backed him.

The opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance issued a statement yesterday expressing its gratitude to the King.

"This is also the stance of Pakatan and a majority of the MPs, that the executive and judiciary branches can work during the Emergency period," said a joint statement signed by the chiefs of the three PH parties, including opposition leader, Mr Anwar Ibrahim.

Mr Muhyiddin's 11 months in office have been beset by infighting in his ruling coalition and a leadership challenge from Mr Anwar.

If Parliament reconvenes and Mr Muhyiddin loses the no-confidence vote, he would either have to resign or seek the King's assent to dissolve Parliament, paving the way for an election.