Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin ended months of uncertainty over his parliamentary majority yesterday when he succeeded in replacing Speaker Ariff Yusof with a slim majority of two votes.
Nearly the entire 222-strong House was present to vote on the motion, which was preceded by a heated debate.
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin has faced doubts over his majority since being sworn in on March 1 following a week-long political imbroglio. His predecessor, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, had then claimed he commanded the support of 115 lawmakers, and has since proposed a motion of no-confidence against him.
Yesterday, Tan Sri Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact managed to unseat Tan Sri Ariff by a vote of 111 to 109. Minister Maximus Ongkili was absent, while Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon, who is a government MP, did not take part as he was presiding over the vote.
Mr Muhyiddin had avoided testing his command of Parliament for over four months, and yesterday's win proved his loose coalition with Umno, Parti Islam SeMalaysia and Gabungan Parti Sarawak is able to push his government's policies through the House.
Datuk Azhar Harun, the new Speaker nominated by the government, took his oath and was appointed amid 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 ruled that the period for nomination had lapsed.
The other Deputy Speaker, Mr Nga Kor Ming, resigned following Mr Ariff's removal. He was replaced by Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, an MP from Umno, the largest party in PN, who was also appointed without a vote.
"If there is only one nomination, there is no need for voting. The candidate can be installed as Speaker," Mr Azhar, who was formerly chairman of the Election Commission, told a news conference when asked on the legitimacy of his position.
This was the first vote held in Parliament since Mr Muhyiddin, along with about 40 other MPs, left PH at the end of February, causing the PH government to lose its majority support. Mr Muhyiddin then formed PN, which was criticised as a "backdoor government", and was appointed prime minister by the King.
Replacing the Speaker - who was appointed under the former PH administration - say pundits, is a step towards ensuring that the government's agenda is prioritised. This includes passing a RM45 billion (S$14.7 billion) stimulus package for the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir's no-confidence motion against Mr Muhyiddin has been slated as the 27th item - fourth from last - for this 25-day parliamentary session that ends on Aug 27.
Opposition MPs objected strongly to the Speaker's replacement yesterday.
"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.
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."
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