Malaysia's king says parliament can convene during emergency

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah speaks during Kuala Lumpur Summit in Kuala Lumpur
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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's King Al-Sultan Abdullah said on Wednesday parliament can convene during a state of emergency, a move that could open the door for the opposition to launch a fresh confidence vote to challenge Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

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 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.

In a statement, the national palace said that the king was of the view that parliament can convene on a date that he deems suitable and taking into consideration the premier's advice.

The emergency ordinance, which supercedes regular laws when in force, requires that parliament be convened, prorogued or dissolved on a date decided by the king and on the advice of the prime minister, the palace said.

"Hence, the view by certain parties that the emergency proclamation stops parliament from convening is not accurate," the statement read.

The prime minister's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Muhyiddin's 11 months in office have been beset by infighting in his ruling coalition and a leadership challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, just as the country grappled with the economic and health crises caused by the pandemic.

Should parliament be allowed to convene, the opposition could seek another confidence vote and if Muhyiddin lost he would either have to resign or seek the king's assent to dissolve parliament, paving the way for an election.

The palace said the king agreed to Muhyiddin's request for an emergency declaration last month only as a "proactive measure" to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Malaysia had reported nearly 290,000 coronavirus infections and 1,076 deaths as of Tuesday, the third-highest number of cases in the region behind Indonesia and the Philippines.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Ed Davies)