Malaysia Election Is Blow to Najib

(AP) – Malaysia's opposition won two of three by-elections held Tuesday, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who took office last week with pledges to carry out wide-ranging government and social reforms.

Tuesday's results don't change the balance of power at the federal or state levels but serve as an unofficial referendum on Mr. Najib's popularity. The ruling National Front coalition downplayed the loss, saying the new premier was yet to make his mark.

"The feel-good factor from the power transition is still too new and has not sunk in," said Muhyiddin Yasin, who is expected to be appointed deputy prime minister in the new cabinet to be announced this week.

"I am confident that when the new leadership begin their duties, and when reforms are implemented, it will convince the people," he said.

Tuesday's elections were to fill one seat in Parliament from the Perak state, and one seat each in the state parliaments of Kedah and Sarawak. The by-elections were to fill vacancies left by two deaths and one resignation.

The National Front won the Sarawak race, but lost the other two. The Perak federal seat was won by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, while the Kedah state seat was won by the People's Justice Party. The two parties are partners in the People's Alliance coalition led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

"Irrespective of the new PM, Malaysians still want change," Mr. Anwar told reporters. "They (voters) are even stronger in their support" for the opposition than in the last elections, he said, referring to Tuesday's increased margins of victory.

The People's Alliance shocked the National Front in the March 2008 general elections, depriving it of a two-thirds majority for the first time in 40 years.

With Tuesday's result, the National Front, which is dominated by Mr. Najib's United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, will remain with 138 seats in the 222-member Parliament, while the People's Alliance will have 81 seats. Three other members are independents.

Mr. Najib was chosen to lead UMNO when former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down, after party critics blamed him for election losses.