Malaysia’s ruling coalition thrashed in triple by-election

(DPA) – Malaysia’s ruling National Front coalition suffered another major bruising by the opposition alliance when it managed to win only one out of three special by-elections held Tuesday.

The parliamentary elections were held simultaneously for the Bukit Gantang seat in the northern state of Perak, in Bukit Selambau in neighbouring Kedah state and in the Batang Ai constituency in the eastern state of Sarawak on Borneo island.

The National Front coalition of multi-ethnic parties succeeded in retaining only the Batang Ai state legislative seat, but lost its Bukit Selambau constituency and the parliamentary seat of Bukit Gantang to the opposition.

While the election results will not see any changes in power of the federal government, the polls are a slap in the face for newly appointed Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Front, both suffering from negative public approval ratings.

The by-elections, which were called after one lawmaker resigned and two died, was to have been a crucial popularity test for Najib, who was appointed Friday.

A resounding victory in Tuesday’s polls would have made it possible for Najib to stem a growing tide of discontentment with the ruling National Front government, and put to rest his critics.

Najib, the son of Malaysia’s second prime minister, is taking over at a time when the Front is facing its lowest-ever level of public support, evident in the losses it sustained during general elections in March 2008.

The Front failed to retain a two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time in almost 40 years and lost an unprecedented five of the country’s 13 states to the three-party opposition People’s Alliance, led by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

On Saturday, former premier Mahathir Mohamad had announced he would rejoin the ruling United Malays National Organisation – the backbone of the Front – after almost a year since he quit.

Mahathir’s move and apparent endorsement of Najib had been seen as a boost for the Front in the by-elections, as the former leader still commands a great deal of respect from the average Malaysian.

But despite Mahathir’s efforts of going to the ground to campaign in the Bukit Selambau constituency, which is situated in his home-state of Kedah, the Front failed to win back its voters.

Tuesday’s by-elections saw a large voter turnout for all constituency, with 75 per cent in the Perak constituency, 70 per cent in neighbouring Kedah and 71 per cent in Sarawak.