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Singapore not quite ready to live with Covid

Singapore not quite ready to live with Covid

Wet markets, hawker centers and coffee shops have once again gone quiet after tighter Covid-19 restrictions were reinstated on July 22 to counter the highest incidence of community cases in 11 months, a development that health authorities say is a “huge setback” for the city-state’s reopening plans.

Despite making vaccination strides with the highest inoculation levels in the region, the threat of runaway infections fueled by the more transmissible Delta variant led the country to reimpose restrictions in place during May and June, prohibiting dining in at restaurants, closing indoor venues such as gyms, and limiting gatherings to two people.

After reporting very few locally transmitted cases in recent weeks, new infections rapidly mushroomed with major clusters at karaoke bars and a fishery port that soon spread to fresh seafood markets frequented by the elderly, a demographic given early priority for vaccination but with the lowest take-up rate among all eligible age groups.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told reporters on Wednesday (July 21) that stricter curbs were needed to prevent “an uncontrollable rise in cases, which could potentially result in many severe illnesses or even deaths” among unvaccinated seniors. He said that more than 200,000 residents over age 60 have yet to be immunized.

“We felt it is not the time to risk it all now,” said Ong, who is co-chair of Singapore’s multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, in reference to the city-state’s goal of having two-thirds of the population vaccinated by August 9, when the city-state commemorates national independence.

Over 50% of the population of 5.7 million have so far been fully immunized against Covid-19.

“Vaccination rates are probably not high enough at present to prevent a sharp rise in more severe disease and probably deaths from Covid-19 if this current wave is not brought under control,” said Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

A man waits outside a clinic to receive a Covid-19 vaccine on June 24, 2021, in Singapore. Photo: AFP via NurPhoto / Suhaimi Abdullah

Tightened restrictions will last until at least August 18 and will be reviewed in two weeks. The measures have come as a blow to many in Singapore who are eager to move on from the pandemic, particularly business owners whose operations have again been disrupted despite overwhelming compliance with social distancing and other strict rules.

Covid-19 has also cast a shadow over celebrations to mark Singapore’s independence, with the annual National Day Parade (NDP) postponed to August 21 due to rising cases. The parade, which was downsized last year, was scheduled to be held on August 9 with plans for spectators to undergo required pre-event testing and be fully vaccinated.

The latest outbreaks have stoked anger over a lack of closer enforcement of karaoke or KTV bars that were allowed to operate as food and beverage outlets despite being notorious for facilitating gambling and sexual services known to be offered by foreign hostesses, at least 29 of whom have since been arrested by police in a crackdown on nightspots.

Authorities have, however, deemed the largest major cluster at the Jurong Fisheries Port to be of greater concern than the karaoke cluster that predominantly infected young people. A strain of coronavirus associated with imported cases from Indonesia, now the regional epicenter of Covid-19 transmission, has been linked to the port outbreak.

Singapore’s highest recent daily toll was 182 cases on July 20, still only a fraction of those reported elsewhere in Southeast Asia but an alarming surge for a nation that reported zero daily cases only ten days earlier. The overall number of new community infections rose to 964 cases between July 17-23 from 126 cases detected between July 10-16.

“Our hospitals and [treatment facilities] are probably already stretched by this new daily triple-digit case count. Although not everyone is happy about this, understandably, the cautious approach here is reasonable,” said Hsu. “The Delta variant is too transmissible and virulent to be allowed free and rapid spread, even in a highly vaccinated population.”

The city-state’s return to lockdown-like conditions comes after authorities last month outlined a road map for loosening restrictions and treating Covid-19 as an endemic and manageable disease rather than a pandemic. Some observers have thus criticized the latest curbs as being contrary to the spirit of the much-publicized “new normal” approach.

Visitors walk past the Merlion at the Marina Bay in Singapore on 18 July, 2021, the day before stricter public health safety measures kicked in. Photo: AFP via NurPhoto / Joseph Nair

As part of this new strategy, the city-state’s health authorities have said daily cases would not be the primary data relied upon to make decisions on public health interventions. Instead, health outcomes would be the focus and take into account broader data on hospitalizations, death rates and intensive care unit (ICU) patient numbers.

Though the number of active cases tripled over the last seven days to 1,179 and has seen many more people hospitalized, only one person is in critical condition, while only 36 people have died since the start of pandemic, facts that some argue should have led authorities to take a less risk-averse response to rising cases given the current rate of immunization.

Indeed, just prior to the announcement of tightened rules, authorities were planning to allow differentiated safe management measures for vaccinated people to participate in social and dining activities that carry a higher risk, though that approach was put on hold over concerns of cases rising too sharply and endangering the unvaccinated.

Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said there is a general misunderstanding that Singapore has already commenced an endemic strategy, though authorities have explained it is contingent upon a sufficiently high level of vaccine uptake among the population.

“This is only expected to happen sometime in August. Until then, Singapore remains on high alert to limit the extent of community infections happening in order to protect those that are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated,” said Teo, who added that Singaporeans’ frustration over tightened restrictions was understandable.

“Many people in Singapore have cooperated and complied fully with the requests by the government, including getting vaccinated and minimizing social gatherings. The latest curbs do seem to be punishing the cooperative masses because of the slippages of the few, but I must state that this is a necessary burden to bear in the short-term,” he said.

Singapore’s government has encouraged the elderly to get vaccinated against Covid-19 with door-to-door outreach and rules that allow seniors to walk into any vaccination center without an advance booking to receive their shots. But many have not done so, fearing possible side effects or aggravating their pre-existing medical conditions.

Teo said that some elderly residents have deliberately decided not to be vaccinated due to safety concerns linked to messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines like Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna that are currently used in Singapore’s national vaccine program, while others are ambivalent to vaccination and may require door-to-door vaccination services.

Two men wait outside a clinic after receiving the China-made Sinovac vaccine on June 24, 2021 in Singapore. Photo: AFP via NurPhoto / Suhaimi Abdullah

Offering other non-MRA vaccines such as those produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech or American biotech firm Novavax as part of the national vaccination rollout – provided there is sufficient enough safety and efficacy data to support their inclusion – could help to allay some concerns of the elderly and increase vaccine uptake, the professor suggested.

Sinovac’s vaccine has yet to be approved by the city-state’s regulators, though it is available for purchase at some private clinics. Authorities signed an agreement with Novavax in June to purchase its protein-based Covid-19 vaccine, which has shown to be more than 90% effective in late-stage clinical trials in the United States.

Health experts expect Singapore’s tolerance for community infections to be much higher once at least 70% of the population are fully vaccinated by early August, though measures limiting group sizes for social activities and dining, as well as mandatory mask-wearing, are likely to remain in place for some time to allow for even higher levels of vaccination.

“I do think that Singapore will tolerate around 100-200 new cases a day as long as the majority are mild, like they are right now. This would lead to a scaling down of public health measures, perhaps to what is done for influenza,” said Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

Though an endemic approach to Covid-19 remains somewhat “aspirational” in Singapore and most of the world, “it is something that we all agree needs to be done,” Tambyah added.

“When the vaccination rates rise and the number of individuals who are seriously ill remains in the single digits, we will move on to learn to live with the virus,” he said.

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Indonesian president’s approval hit by handling of pandemic: Survey

Indonesian president’s approval hit by handling of pandemic: Survey
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo attends an ASEAN leaders summit with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in Bangkok, Thailand November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s approval rating has fallen to the lowest level in five years on the back of a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, a survey released on Wednesday (Aug 25) showed.

Conducted by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, the survey showed that 59 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the president, the lowest ranking since March 2016.

The survey, which involved 1,220 respondents, was conducted between Jul 30 to Aug 4, while the country was in the throes of a virulent virus wave that led to overflowing hospitals and oxygen shortages on the densely populated island of Java.

Indonesia has recorded more than 4 million cases of the coronavirus, and more than 129,000 deaths, among the highest tallies in Asia.

“While the lower approval rating for Widodo is mainly caused by the pandemic and the government’s largely inconsistent and confusing responses to the health crisis, it is unlikely the only factor,” said Todd Elliot, a senior analyst at Concord Consulting.

“Trust in a government in Indonesia normally decreases if the economy is perceived as underperforming and the latest round of coronavirus curbs have hit businesses particularly hard.”

The president said last week in his annual state of the nation speech that there was a need to strike a balance between health and economic interests during the pandemic.

Overall, 54.3 per cent of respondents surveyed said they trusted the president to properly manage the health crisis, while perceptions of the country’s economic situation were the worst since 2004.

The survey indicated widespread dissatisfaction with social restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus that have been in place since early July.

Restrictions were eased on Monday in certain regions, including in Jakarta, to allow for limited capacity at malls, restaurants and places of worship after a recent drop in cases.

Only 42 per cent of respondents agreed with the curbs, the survey showed.

With more than 50 per cent of Indonesians employed in the informal sector, the curbs have impacted people’s livelihoods hard with 79.2 per cent of respondents saying their income had declined during the pandemic, and 53.3 per cent describing their household economic situation as worse, or much worse. REUTERS

 

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What is the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan?

What is the Islamic State threat in Afghanistan?
The Islamic State's chapter in Afghanistan and Pakistan has claimed some of the most shocking attacks in the region. AFP

As desperate Afghans crowd Kabul airport trying to get on any evacuation flights to flee the Taliban, officials have warned of another jihadist threat: The Islamic State group.

President Joe Biden said there is “an acute and growing risk” of an attack at the airport by the group’s regional chapter, called Islamic State-Khorasan or ISIS-K.

The United States, Britain and Australia have told people to leave the area for safer locations.

When asked directly about the threat, a Taliban spokesman acknowledged a risk of “nuisances” causing trouble in a chaotic situation they blamed entirely on the US-led evacuation.

What is Islamic State-Khorasan?

Months after the Islamic State declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014, breakaway fighters from the Pakistani Taliban joined militants in Afghanistan to form a regional chapter, pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The group was formally acknowledged by the central Islamic State leadership the next year as it sunk roots in northeastern Afghanistan, particularly Kunar, Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces.

It also managed to set up sleeper cells in other parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including Kabul, according to United Nations monitors.

Latest estimates of its strength vary from several thousand active fighters to as low as 500, according to a UN Security Council report released last month.

“Khorasan” is a historical name for the region, taking in parts of what is today Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

What kind of attacks has it carried out?

The Islamic State’s Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter has been responsible for some of the deadliest attacks of recent years.

It has massacred civilians in both countries, at mosques, shrines, public squares and even hospitals.

The group has especially targeted Muslims from sects it considers heretical, including Shiites.

Last year, it was blamed for an attack that shocked the world – gunmen went on a bloody rampage at a maternity ward in a predominantly Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul, killing 16 mothers and mothers-to-be.

Beyond bombings and massacres, IS-Khorasan has failed to hold any territory in the region, suffering huge losses because of Taliban and US-led military operations.

According to UN and US military assessments, after the phase of heavy defeats IS-Khorasan now operates largely through covert cells based in or near cities to carry out high-profile attacks.

What is IS-Khorasan’s relationship with the Taliban?

While both groups are hardline Sunni militants, there is no love lost between them.

They have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy, while claiming to be the true flag-bearers of jihad.

That tussle has led to bloody fighting between the two, with the Taliban emerging largely victorious after 2019 when IS-Khorasan failed to secure territory as its parent group did in the Middle East.

In a sign of the enmity between the two jihadist groups, Islamic State statements have referred to the Taliban as apostates.

How has the Islamic State reacted to the Taliban victory in Afghanistan?

Not well.

Islamic State had been highly critical of the deal last year between Washington and the Taliban that led to the agreement for withdrawing foreign troops, accusing the latter of abandoning the jihadist cause.

Following the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan, a number of jihadist groups around the world congratulated them – but not Islamic State.

One Islamic State commentary published after the fall of Kabul accused the Taliban of betraying jihadists with the US withdrawal deal and vowed to continue its fight, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant communications.

What is the threat at Kabul airport?

US officials say Kabul airport, with thousands of US-led foreign troops surrounded by huge crowds of desperate Afghans, is under high threat from IS-Khorasan.

A flurry of near-identical travel warnings from London, Canberra and Washington late Wednesday urged people gathered in the area to move to safer locations.

They have not provided any specific details about the threat.

“ISIS-K is a sworn enemy of the Taliban, and they have a history of fighting one another,” Biden said Sunday.

“But every day we have troops on the ground, these troops and innocent civilians at the airport face the risk of attack from ISIS-K.”

Some military transports taking off from Kabul airport in recent days have been seen launching flares, which are normally used to attract heat-seeking missiles. AFP

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Taliban show conciliatory face at first Kabul news conference

Taliban show conciliatory face at first Kabul news conference

The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday (Aug 17) they wanted peaceful relations with other countries and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law, as they held their first official news briefing since their shock seizure of Kabul.

The Taliban announcements, short on details but suggesting a softer line than during their rule 20 years ago, came as the United States and Western allies resumed evacuating diplomats and civilians the day after scenes of chaos at Kabul airport as Afghans thronged the runway.

“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” the movement’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said.

Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam,” he added.

As they rushed to evacuate, foreign powers assessed how to respond to the transformed situation on the ground after Afghan forces melted away in just days, with what many had predicted as the likely fast unraveling of women’s rights.

US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they had agreed to hold a virtual meeting of Group of Seven leaders next week to discuss a common strategy and approach to Afghanistan.

During their 1996-2001 rule, also guided by Islamic sharia law, the Taliban stopped women from working and meted out punishments including public stoning. Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session in Geneva next week to address “serious human rights concerns” after the Taliban takeover, a UN statement said.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan, told Reuters in an interview the Taliban had assured the United Nations it can pursue humanitarian work in Afghanistan, which is suffering from a drought.

‘WALK THE TALK’

The European Union said it would only cooperate with the Afghan government following the Taliban’s return to power if they respected fundamental rights, including those of women.

Within Afghanistan, women expressed scepticism.

Afghan girls’ education activist Pashtana Durrani, 23, was wary of Taliban promises. “They have to walk the talk. Right now they are not doing that,” she told Reuters.

Several women were ordered to leave their jobs during the Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan.

Mujahid said private media could continue to be free and independent in Afghanistan and that the Taliban were committed to the media within their cultural framework.

He also said families trying to flee the country at the airport should return home and nothing would happen to them.

RESISTANCE AND CRITICISM

Mujahid’s conciliatory tone contrasted with comments by Afghan First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who declared himself the “legitimate caretaker president” and vowed not to bow to Kabul’s new rulers.

It was not immediately clear how much support Saleh enjoys in a country wearied by decades of conflict.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban should allow all those who wanted to leave the country, adding that NATO’s aim was to help build a viable state in Afghanistan and warning that the alliance could strike if the country again becomes a breeding ground for terrorism.

Taliban forces keep watch inside Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)


The decision by Biden, a Democrat, to stick to the withdrawal deal struck last year by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, has stirred widespread criticism at home and among US allies.

Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points to 46 per cent, the lowest level of his seven-month-long presidency, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday. It also found that less than half of Americans liked how he has handled Afghanistan.

US forces took charge of the airport – the only way to fly out of Afghanistan – on Sunday as the militants wound up a week of rapid advances by taking over Kabul without a fight.

US General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, was at Kabul’s airport on Tuesday to evaluate security.

The State Department said on Tuesday that Washington had completed a drawdown of embassy personnel from Kabul and remaining diplomats were assisting in the evacuation.

US military flights evacuating diplomats and civilians restarted after having been suspended on Monday due to chaos at Kabul airport.

Asked how Washington would hold the Taliban to their pledge to respect women’s rights, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, signalled that options included sanctions and marshalling international condemnation and isolation.

Washington was blocking the Taliban from accessing any Afghan government funds held in the United States, including about US$1.3 billion of gold reserves held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a Biden administration official said.

Biden said he had had to decide between asking US forces to fight endlessly or follow through on the withdrawal deal.

He blamed the Taliban takeover on Afghan political leaders who fled and the army’s unwillingness to fight. REUTERS

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More than 600 fleeing Afghans cram into dramatic US military flight

More than 600 fleeing Afghans cram into dramatic US military flight
Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

A striking new photograph shows 640 Afghans packed tightly into a U.S. plane leaving Kabul in a desperate bid to escape the Taliban.

The photo, from national security publication Defense One, captures the Air Force evacuation from Kabul to Qatar.

The Afghans were all evacuated safely, even though the crowd nearly topped the record for the most people ever flown in the Boeing aircraft, a military cargo plane which has been in service for nearly three decades.

The plane, C-17, belongs to the 436th Air Wing and is normally based in Delaware.

Its crew had not intended to take so many passengers but panicked Afghans had pulled themselves on the aircraft’s half-open ramp, according to one official.

The official said “the crew made the decision to go” rather than attempt to force off the excess passengers, and was only able to count the travelers when they all disembarked.

The Afghans sat on the floor of the plane’s hold, hanging onto cargo straps on the walls as makeshift seatbelts.

It was just one of several planes which took off with hundreds of passengers from Kabul – the anonymous official told Defense One that some may have carried a load even larger than 640 people.

Disturbing videos also circulated online on Monday showing people clinging to the outside of departing aircrafts in Kabul airport, with some still holding on even after takeoff and ultimately falling to their deaths. At least seven people died in the chaos.

Kabul airport is one of the few places in the country which is still controlled by U.S. troops meaning it has become a key escape route.

The Taliban have torn through Afghanistan in a matter of days, filling the power vacuum left by the U.S. troops who pulled out of the country after spending 20 years fighting the so-called “war on terror.”

More than 600 Afghans – women, men, children and the elderly – sitting packed on the floor of a cavernous United States military plane, part of a dramatic airlift hours after Kabul fell to the Taliban.

The now-viral image, obtained and posted by the respected military news site Defense One, was taken inside a US Air Force C-17 transport.

The Afghans crammed in the giant cargo hold on the Sunday (Aug 15) night flight were among those approved for evacuation by US authorities, according to the site.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft

The interior of a United States Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, on Aug 15, 2021. (File photo: Reuters/Defense One handout)

The US military said that about 640 Afghans were on board.

But such a large number on one flight was not planned, a US official told Defense One – many climbed onto the half-open ramp at the back of the plane in desperation.

“The crew made the decision to go” rather than force them out, the official said.

It came as Taliban fighters flooded the streets of Kabul, with panicked citizens rushing to the airport to try and find a flight out of Afghanistan.

“The unusually high number of passengers aboard this aircraft … was the result of a dynamic security environment that necessitated quick decision-making by the crew,” US Central Command spokesperson Karen Roxberry said in a statement.

It “ultimately ensured that these passengers were safely taken outside the country”.

Among the people visible in the photo is a small child holding a feeding bottle in the lap of a woman. Several other people are seen holding small children.

Hardly any belongings are visible among the passengers, except a small suitcase and a backpack in the foreground.

The flight – which Defense One said had the call sign Reach 871 – landed in Qatar in the early hours of Monday, according to the tracking website FlightAware.

The US military did not specify the destination.

This C-17 was not the only one to take so many Afghans out of the country – Defense One cited the US official as saying that several planes took off from Kabul with similar numbers.

It is also not the first time Boeing C-17s – workhorses of the US Air Force transport fleet – have been used for such a large evacuation.

In 2013, a US C-17 flew out more than 670 people from the eastern Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.

In its usual configuration, a C-17 carries about 100 troops with equipment.

CHAOS, DESPERATION

There have been desperate and chaotic scenes at Kabul airport, where the apron and runway were flooded on Monday by thousands of people hoping to get a flight out of the country.

Many were not eligible for evacuation flights and did not have tickets on commercial flights or even visas.

In harrowing videos shared on social media, hundreds of people are seen running next to a C-17 as it appears to gather speed, some clinging to the sides of the plane.

In another, attack helicopters are seen flying low near the crowds in an apparent attempt to clear the runway for an aircraft.

Afghan media reported that several people died after falling from planes as they took off.

One person died in the landing gear well of a C-17 that took off from Kabul, the Washington Post and Politico reported. AFP

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Indonesia president says need to balance health and economy in pandemic

Indonesia president says need to balance health and economy in pandemic
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, wearing traditional Baduy outfit, delivers his annual State of the Nation Address ahead of the country's Independence Day, at the parliament building in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 16, 2021. Achmad Ibrahim/Pool via REUTERS

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Monday in his annual state of the nation speech that there was a need to strike a balance between health and economic interests amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia’s biggest country.

“The pandemic has indeed significantly slowed down our economic growth, but it must not hinder the process of structural reforms of our economy,” the president said in the annual speech to parliament.

Struggling with a jump in infections driven by the Delta variant, Indonesia has become Asia’s epicentre for COVID-19, with hospitals overwhelmed at times and the daily death toll the highest globally and total fatalities topping 100,000.

Jokowi, as the president is known, cited the introduction last month of tighter social restrictions, which require staff in non-essential sectors to work from home and limit the operations of malls or restaurants, as examples of the balance.

“What we need to do is find the best combination between public health and economic interests,” said Jokowi, who wore a traditional outfit of Indonesia’s Baduy people during his speech.

Southeast Asia’s biggest economy pulled out of recession in the second quarter with 7% annual gross domestic product growth, but the rise in coronavirus cases and the mobility restrictions threaten the recovery momentum in the third quarter.

The restrictions are due to be in place until Monday on Java and Aug. 23 on the other four main islands.

Though infections have started to plateau in the most populous island of Java, cases have been spreading to other parts of the archipelago, authorities have said.

In a video released on Sunday, Jokowi said that COVID-19 hospital bed occupancy across Java had declined, adding that the level in the capital Jakarta had fallen to 29.4% from about 90% at its peak in late June.

The government has faced criticism over its handling of the pandemic, with some health experts citing a resistance from authorities to harder lockdowns in order to protect the economy.

Jokowi acknowledged criticism directed at his government and said constructive criticism was important, “particularly on matters that we have not been able to resolve.” REUTERS

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Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin resigns after failing to garner majority support

Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin resigns after failing to garner majority support
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin arrives at the National Palace for a meeting with the king, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 16, 2021. Reuters/Lim Huey Teng

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has sent his resignation to the king, becoming the country’s shortest-ruling leader after failing to garner majority support, according to reports.

Mr Yassin failed to get majority support less than 18 months after taking office. The resignation has spurred a fresh political crisis in the country amid a worsening pandemic situation.

Several political leaders had started to haggle over clinching the top post, with deputy prime minister Ismail Sabri attempting to rally support, reported news agency Associated Press (AP).

Mr Yassin will, however, tell the king that his alliance still has the biggest bloc of support despite losing the majority, cabinet minister Mohamad Redzuan Mohamad Yusof told AP on Sunday.

Any prime minister who does not have majority support must resign under Malaysia’s constitution. The king can then appoint another leader who he believes will have the confidence of the parliament.

Over a dozen lawmakers from the biggest party in the alliance withdrew support for Mr Yassin’s government. Two ministers from the United Malays National Organisation (UNMO) also resigned from the Cabinet before the prime minister submitted his resignation.

Some media reports pointed to mounting public anger against the government for its handling of the pandemic situation in the country, which has one of the world’s highest infection rates.

Daily Covid cases surged to the 20,000-mark this month despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June, reported AP.

“Muhyiddin has been ruling on borrowed time. His poor governance, focus on survival politics and unwillingness to acknowledge his failings have led to his undoing,” Bridget Welsh, an expert in Malaysian politics from Malaysia’s University of Nottingham, was quoted as saying by AP.

“The focus now is on Malaysia having a peaceful transition to a new government that can manage the crisis,” she added.

No one coalition can, however, claim a majority. The largest opposition bloc has 90 lawmakers, 21 short of a simple majority needed to form the government. This is also less than 100 lawmakers who back Mr Yassin.

Apart from the opposition’s Anwar Ibrahim as a candidate, other contenders include Mr Sabri and Razaleigh Hamzah from UNMO. Mr Hamzah is an 84-year-old prince who served as a finance minister and is perceived to be a neutral candidate who could unite UNMO’s several warring factions.

Mr Yassin initiated the collapse of the government of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that won a national election in 2018 and seized power after forming a coalition with UNMO, a party that has led Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957.

The government was ousted in 2018 after a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal rocked the country. Mr Mohamad had resigned to protest Mr Yassin’s party Beratsu’s plan to form a government with UNMO. AP (With inputs from agencies)

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