Ahead of Possible Confidence Vote, Malaysian PM Muhyiddin Yassin Ousts Speaker with Narrow Margin

In a narrow 111-109 votes, speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof was unseated by Yassin's coalition and Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun was appointed as the new speaker without a vote

Amid the growing calls for a confidence vote, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin won a major battle, removing the speaker of the lower house by just two votes on July 13. While it may not be as significant as winning a no-confidence motion against him, it still indicates that his coalition, Perikatan Nasional, may just win such a motion brought against him in the next few days.

This was Yassin's first real test since taking over from Mahathir Mohamad in March amid the coronavirus pandemic. He got the backing of 111 members of parliament compared to 109 against his coalition to replace the speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof, a former Federal Court judge, who was appointed by Mahathir's administration post the 2018 General Election.

Unconstitutional Appointment?

Former Election Commission chairman Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun was elected as the new Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat, albeit without a vote. UMNO's Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said was appointed as the deputy speaker. She became the first woman in Malaysia to hold the position.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin Wikimedia Commons

However, Harun's appointment was heavily criticized by the Pakatan Harapan-led (PH) opposition as he was not voted into the position. Mahathir said it was not right as he was not a neutral candidate. "Speaker must be neutral to not side with any parties. If you want to choose so the new Speaker sides with the government, that is not called a Speaker," he said in Dewan Rakyat.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said it was a mistake that discredited the sanctity of the parliament. "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," he said.

Azizan, later at a press conference, said his appointment was legal. "If there is only one nomination, there is no need for voting. The candidate can be installed as a speaker," he said.

Twitter reaction
Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun was appointed as the new speaker Twitter/ Asiraf Yaacob

Political Turmoil

Yassin, a former Minister of Home Affairs under Mahathir administration, became the Prime Minister following a power grab when he unexpectedly supported corruption-tainted United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and defected from PH along with 40 other MPs of ten opposition parties that include Parti Islam SeMalaysia and Gabungan Parti Sarawak besides UMNO.

Since resigning as the PM, Mahathir has been demanding a confidence vote against Yassin. However, the motion has not been moved yet due to Malaysia's economic crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic. Mahathir and Ibrahim had vowed to remove him from the position. Nevertheless, rumors have been making the rounds that Yassin may call for a snap poll to put the disputes to rest and establish himself as the people's choice as the narrow win on July 13 may complicate matters if a no-confidence motion is passed against his administration.

"Many questions have arisen, how many government and opposition MPs we have, so this election should be held so that we can have a solid government in term of support of MPs. I as Padang Terap MP also give full support to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as prime minister," Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mahdzir Khalid told Malay Mail last month.