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Malaysia PM Muhyiddin wins vote to oust Speaker, proves majority

[KUALA LUMPUR] Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin finally ended months of uncertainty over his parliamentary majority on Monday 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 Mr Muhyiddin has faced doubts over his majority since being sworn in on March 1, when predecessor Mahathir Mohamad claimed to still lead a 115-strong bloc following a week-long political imbroglio.

Mr Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional (PN) pact managed to unseat Mr Ariff by a vote of 111 to 109, with one MP absent while Deputy Speaker Rashid Hasnon, who is a government MP, did not cast a ballot as he was presiding over the vote.

PN is now set to install former Election Commission chairman Azhar Harun after the lunch break as the new Speaker despite fierce resistance from the Pakatan Harapan-led (PH) opposition.

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"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)".

De facto law minister Takiyuddin Hassan 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, the Islamist PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak, which rules the eastern state.

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