KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin finally ended months of uncertainty over his parliamentary majority on Monday (July 13) by successfully removing Speaker Ariff Yusof after a heated debate in which the government won by a slim majority of two.
It was a rare event where nearly the entire 222-strong House was present to vote on the motion.
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin has faced doubts over his majority since being sworn in on March 1, when his predecessor Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad claimed to still lead a 115-strong bloc following a week-long political imbroglio.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact managed to unseat Tan Sri Ariff by a vote of 111 to 109, with minister Maximus Ongkili absent while Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon, who is a government MP, did not cast a ballot as he was presiding over the vote.
Following the decision to remove Tan Sri Ariff, Deputy Speaker Nga Kor Ming announced his resignation.
Datuk Azhar Harun, the new Speaker nominated by the government took his oath and was appointed, amidst protests from the Pakatan Harapan-led (PH) opposition that lawmakers had not voted on his appointment.
De facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan said the opposition had not nominated anyone else for the post while Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon ruled that the period for nomination had lapsed.
Mr Nga's post was filled, also without a vote, by Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, an MP from Umno, the largest party in PN.
"If there is only one nomination, there is no need for voting. The candidate can be installed as speaker," newly-appointed Speaker Azhar told a news conference when asked about the legitimacy of his position.
Mr Muhyiddin has avoided testing his command of Parliament for over four months, but the need to get his legislative agenda - including RM45 billion (S$14.7 billion) in stimulus spending due to the coronavirus pandemic - on the road has necessitated the ongoing 25-day parliamentary session.
"Do not commit this mistake that will sully the sanctity of Parliament. The excuse that there is a new candidate is unreasonable. We can consider it, if there is a solid rationale why a Speaker who has conducted his duties well must be dropped," said Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim when debating the motion earlier on Monday.
Dr Mahathir also said he opposed "the motion if it is a (legal) motion, as I have not read in the Constitution or Standing Orders of Parliament that the Prime Minister can change the Speaker simply because there is another candidate".
"I, too, have another candidate for prime minister," he said to laughter. "What wrong has the Speaker done? The only wrong is that there is another candidate. The government wants a Speaker that is under their thumb, but that is not the role of the Speaker."
But PN's Baling MP Azeez Rahim shot back and accused the former premier of also swapping the heads of judiciary, police and anti-graft body when he was in power "despite no wrong being done (by the incumbent)".
Datuk Takiyuddin explained that the move was according to legal provisions that "the Speaker can be elected... if at any time the House resolves" and that there was no need to notify MPs that the chair was vacant.
Other government MPs also repeatedly pointed out how Dr Mahathir picked private lawyers as attorney-general and anti-corruption chief instead of from the ranks of the government's legal and civil services while leading the PH administration that was in power from May 2018 to February this year.
"Changing the Speaker is to ensure proceedings are in line with the government's direction," said Kinabatangan MP Bung Moktar.
This was the first parliamentary vote held since PH was toppled in February when Mr Muhyiddin defected along with about 40 other MPs to form government with then opposition parties such as Umno, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and Gabungan Parti Sarawak, which rules the eastern state.