Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin clears a major hurdle in parliament as lawmakers narrowly approved a motion to remove the lower house speaker, a vote seen as an important barometer of his support.

In this file photo, Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin unveils his new cabinet members at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya, on March 9, 2020.
In this file photo, Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin unveils his new cabinet members at the Prime Minister's Office in Putrajaya, on March 9, 2020. (AFP Archive)

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has narrowly won a motion to remove the parliament speaker, scraping through the first test of his support nearly five months after taking power.

The move came as parliament resumed on Monday after months of delay because of the coronavirus pandemic. Its success could thwart the opposition's bid of a no-confidence vote against Muhyiddin, analysts said.

Lawmakers engaged in heated debates over Muhyiddin’s unprecedented proposal to replace the house speaker with his own candidate. Voting later showed the government secured 111 votes, against 109 for the opposition, with one absent and another unaccounted for.

“The vote suggests that Muhyiddin's government has the numbers to stay in power. 

Replacing the speaker is crucial because its the speaker who decides if a vote of no-confidence can go ahead," said James Chin, director University of Tasmania's Asia Institute.

“The vote also confirms what we know already, that both sides are very close in terms of numbers and that Muhyiddin’s government is not stable," Chin said.

Muhyiddin’s legitimacy has been challenged by the opposition since he was sworn in on March 1 after a weeklong political crisis.

Muhyiddin pulled his ethnic Malay party out of the ruling alliance, triggering its collapse. He formed a Malay-centric government with the opposition, including the party of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is on trial on multiple graft charges.

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Then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned in protest against the plan and filed a motion of no-confidence against his former party ally.

Chin said the replacement of the speaker suggested parliament cannot act as an effective check and balance against Muhyiddin.

“Given that the new speaker is nominated by Muhyiddin's government. I can bet that Mahathir will not stand a chance in getting rid of Muhyiddin," Chin said. “Muhyiddin is now in a much stronger political position after this."

During the debate, ruling lawmakers said it was normal procedure to appoint new officers aligned with the new government. But Mahathir said the speaker should be someone who is neutral.

He said Muhyiddin's move was unconstitutional as a replacement can only be done if the speaker had died or the seat is vacant. The 95-year-old Mahathir, a two-time premier, was heckled by government lawmakers who said he shouldn't have resigned late in February.

Mahathir earlier claimed he has majority support of lawmakers but that some have been bribed to switch sides.

The opposition has also recently failed to agree on who their new prime minister candidate should be, with Mahathir pushing for a candidate from East Malaysia and his former alliance opting for Anwar Ibrahim, who was slated to succeed Mahathir previously.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies