Malaysia PM unseats speaker with narrow win in crucial test of support

Joseph Sipalan
·2-min read

By Joseph Sipalan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin won a show of support in parliament on Monday with lawmakers narrowly backing his bid to replace the lower house speaker in a vote seen as bolstering his position as questions swirl over his political strength.

While not officially a confidence vote, the outcome - a win by just two votes - was the first real test of how much legislative support Muhyiddin could muster to push through policies and government business.

Southeast Asia's third-largest economy has been grappling with political uncertainty since Muhyiddin, who was part of Mahathir's administration, was unexpectedly made prime minister in March.

Muhyiddin forged an alliance with the graft-tainted UMNO party that was defeated in a 2018 election. The opposition has accused him of grabbing power by shifting allegiances instead of earning it at the ballot box, and has vowed to oust him.

His bid to remove speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, who was appointed by the previous administration led by Mahathir Mohamad, was backed by 111 lawmakers, with 109 against. One member was absent and another abstained.

Azhar Azizan Harun, a former election commission chairman, was chosen as the new speaker.

"I would consider today's slim victory as still a victory, and that Muhyiddin is stronger politically," said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, Australia.

Chin said a motion on a vote of confidence in the prime minister could go forward only if the speaker agrees.

Mahathir has pushed for a confidence vote on Muhyiddin's leadership, but the premier avoided that in the last parliament session in May, when the lower house convened for only one day due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Muhyiddin is preparing for snap election by the end of the year to seek a firm mandate, Singapore's Straits Times newspaper reported in June, amid questions over his legislative influence.

(Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)