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Malaysia PM wins parliamentary test of support

Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, seen here in March, is at the head of a coalition backed by a scandal-plagued party
Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, seen here in March, is at the head of a coalition backed by a scandal-plagued party Mohd RASFAN AFP
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Kuala Lumpur (AFP)

Malaysia's prime minister narrowly won a vote to remove the parliament speaker during a rowdy session of the legislature Monday, a key test of support for the embattled leader.

The Southeast Asian nation has been gripped by turmoil since a reformist government collapsed in February and Muhyiddin Yassin became premier, at the head of a coalition backed by a scandal-plagued party.

He took power without an election, and there had been speculation he did not have sufficient support from MPs to hang on to power.

But in a closely watched vote as parliament resumed following a break due to the coronavirus pandemic, his motion to remove the speaker won the support of 111 MPs against 109 for the opposition.

Opposition lawmakers were furious, with Anwar Ibrahim labelling the push to replace the speaker -- who was appointed by the previous administration -- as "unreasonable, very unreasonable".

"If we already have a speaker with credibility and a good track record, a motion to remove him must have a strong reason," the opposition leader was cited as saying by official news agency Bernama.

After speaker Mohamad Ariff Mohamad Yusof was removed, the premier tabled a motion for him to be replaced by Azhar Azizan Harun, former head of the country's election commission.

The opposition demanded a vote on the new speaker and sought to propose an alternative candidate, but Azhar was hurriedly sworn in without one.

A shouting match erupted between rival MPs, with opposition lawmakers chanting "vote, vote, vote" and one branding Azhar a "back-door speaker" -- and subsequently being ordered to leave the chamber.

Malaysia's political crisis began in February when then leader Mahathir Mohamad resigned and his multi-racial coalition, which had swept to power at landmark 2018 elections, collapsed amid bitter infighting.

It was replaced by a government headed by Muhyiddin and dominated by the United Malays National Organisation, a scandal-mired party which had been ejected at the polls.

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