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Malaysia's PM wins key test as Parliament Speaker is ousted

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Embattled Muhyiddin strengthens his position as move sparks furious reaction from opposition

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's prime minister narrowly won a vote to remove the Parliament Speaker during a rowdy session of the legislature yesterday, a key test of support for the embattled leader.

The country has been gripped by turmoil since a reformist government collapsed in February and Mr 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 Members of Parliament (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.

It was the first time a Speaker had been removed in such a fashion in Malaysia, and sparked fury from the opposition.

"What happened today is a travesty of justice, death of parliamentary democracy and stifling of (the) people's mandate," tweeted opposition lawmaker Charles Santiago. "Challenging days ahead for the country."

After the removal of Mr Mohamad Ariff Mohamad Yusof - who had been appointed by the previous administration - the premier tabled a motion for him to be replaced by Mr Azhar Azizan Harun.

The opposition demanded a vote and sought to propose an alternative candidate, but former election commission chief Azhar was hurriedly sworn in without one.

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

Malaysia expert from the University of Tasmania James Chin said the victory was important for Mr Muhyiddin as the Speaker decides whether a vote of confidence should go ahead.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was premier until he resigned in February amid political turmoil, had been pushing for such a vote.

"Going forward, Muhyiddin is in a stronger position politically," Prof Chin said. "Now that the Speaker is obviously more partial towards his group, he will find it a lot easier to control Parliament."

In a separate development, a Johor state official said once the border between Singapore and Malaysia opens, Johoreans who have been suspended from their jobs in the Republic will be re-hired by many of the companies.

State investment, entrepreneur development, cooperative and human resource committee chairman Mohd Izhar Ahmad said 75 per cent of the 100,000 workers are expected to return to work.

"We have discussed this matter with at least 20 major industries in Singapore, and they agree to re-hire them," he said, adding that these industries were involved in the electronic and service sector. - AFP, THE STAR