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Mar 9, 2008

Malaysian coalition suffers rebuke in general elections

Ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition supporters watch updated election results on screens in Kuala Lumpur on early March 9, 2008.* Opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim describes Opp’s crossing one-third threshold as ‘major victory’

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s ruling coalition was dealt a shock rebuke in Saturday elections that looked set to deliver the key state of Penang to the opposition as well as a slice of its majority in parliament.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi won a landslide victory in 2004 polls, but pollsters said he was being punished over high inflation, rising crime rates and ethnic tensions in the multicultural nation.

Major victory: Opposition figurehead Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy premier who was sacked and jailed in 1998, said the Barisan Nasional coalition could lose its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time in four decades.

“We have crossed the one-third majority. This is based on information from the candidates from the initial counting,” he told AFP. “This is a major victory... and we are moving up very fast towards 40 percent.”

The opposition held just 20 seats in the outgoing 219-seat parliament. In Penang, the only state dominated by ethnic Chinese, the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) said it was confident of ousting Barisan Nasional with the help of Anwar’s Keadilan and the Islamic party PAS.

“Definitely we have won enough seats to form the next state government. The DAP has won 19 seats while Keadilan and PAS secured another five,” DAP candidate P Ramasamy told AFP.

Malaysia’s minority ethnic Indians and Chinese had been expected to turn away from the government, but pollsters said the coalition also suffered a loss of support from the majority Muslim Malays that form its bedrock. “Basically, what we are seeing right now is that there is a massive swing against the Barisan Nasional among the ethnic Indian and Chinese electorates,” said Merdeka Centre research firm pollster Ibrahim Suffian.

“And also a significant swing of about 15 percent, I estimate, from among the Malay electorate as compared to the 2004 elections,” he told AFP. “Judging by the extent to which the unofficial reports are coming through there is a slim chance that the BN’s two-thirds majority might be breached.”

Anwar is barred from holding office until April, but has been criss-crossing the country campaigning for Saturday’s general elections, rallying his own Keadilan party and two others which have formed a loose alliance. “My concern now is why is there a deliberate delay on the part of the government-controlled media in announcing the results,” he said.

Six hours after voting closed, the Election Commission had announced just a few dozen seats – mostly ones where the coalition won. The charismatic 60-year-old Anwar, who was jailed on sex and corruption charges that were widely seen as politically motivated, said the result was a personal victory.

“I feel truly vindicated by the mass support given to the opposition,” he said. “Going forward, Malays, Indians and Chinese all have to work together and make us a formidable force.”

Asked when he cast his vote early on Saturday whether Barisan Nasional would retain its two-thirds majority, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said only: “Insha-Allah (God willing).”

Merdeka Centre pollster, Ibrahim, said the results put the premier’s future in jeopardy as the head of the United Malays Nasional Organisation (UMNO), which leads the coalition. “I think he will have a tough time ahead as he goes into UMNO party elections which are in the middle of the year. afp


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