Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar wins motion of confidence in parliament

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's motion of confidence was passed in parliament on Monday, winning vital backing for his premiership after an election last month returned an unprecedented hung parliament.

Anwar had convened parliament to prove his majority, after rival and former premier Muhyiddin Yassin cast doubt on his support.

The confidence motion was passed by a simple voice vote - with lawmakers voicing their support - after the opposition argued against it because Anwar has already been officially sworn in as Prime Minister by the monarch.

"The ayes have it... We have sufficient majority and it is two-thirds," communications and digital minister Fahmi Fadzil said.

"The unity government in Malaysia stands strong with solid support, and we will focus on the people's welfare," he added.

The opposition bloc continued to question the number of lawmakers in the 222-seat parliament who supported Anwar and said they were ready to take over as ruling government "when the time comes".

"It can be any time; tomorrow, next week or next election," said opposition leader Hamzah Zainuddin.

Anwar, 75, who is also finance minister, took steps to cement his support last week by signing a cooperation pact with smaller political parties.

The parties agreed to ensure political stability after years of turmoil, spur the economy, foster good governance, and uphold the rights of the country's majority Malay community and Islam as its official religion.

Anwar - who has spent more than two decades as an opposition figure - had previously been denied the premiership despite getting within striking distance of it.

In between, he spent nearly a decade in jail for sodomy and corruption in what he says were politically motivated charges.

In the closely contested polls last month, Anwar's bloc did not win a simple majority. But he was appointed by Malaysia's King and proceeded to form a coalition government with the help of other political blocs.

His new government includes the previous ruling coalition Barisan Nasional, which he spent much of his political career seeking to overthrow.

Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Bernadette Baum

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