Malaysia’s ruling coalition won the early results yesterday in an election that could weaken or even end its 56-year rule, with the majority of seats yet to be decided as it faces an opposition pledging to clean up politics and end race-based policies.
The ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), or National Front, won a string of parliamentary seats in its traditional stronghold of Sarawak state on Borneo island. But the opposition retained economically important Penang state as its leader Anwar Ibrahim sought to build on his alliance’s stunning gains in 2008.
With less than a quarter of parliamentary results confirmed in the Southeast Asian nation, the National Front was leading with 37 seats to the opposition’s 13, according to the country’s Election Commission. A count by the independent Malaysiakini website gave the seat tally as 29 to 21 in favour of the coalition.
Either side needs 112 of 222 parliamentary seats to form a majority, although Prime Minister Najib Razak is under pressure to win back the two-thirds majority that the BN lost in the last national election in 2008. Final results were expected by early on Monday.
The coalition is expected to win, but opinion polls showed a tightening race with Najib struggling to translate strong economic growth and a deluge of social handouts into votes.
The Election Commission estimated about 80 percent of 13 million voters — or more than 10 million people — turned out, which it called a record high. Malaysia has a total population of 28 million people.
Anwar was a former deputy premier until his ouster in a 1998 power struggle and six-year jailing on sex charges widely viewed as trumped up. He later brought his pan-racial appeal to the once-divided opposition, dramatically reversing its fortunes.
Najib’s 13-party Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition is widely given the edge, but Anwar has been feted by massive crowds on the stump and recent opinion polls have suggested a race too close to predict.
Pakatan has gained traction with pledges to end ruling-party corruption and authoritarianism, and to reform controversial affirmative-action policies for majority Malays. Anwar says they are abused by a corrupt Malay elite.
His back to the wall, Najib has offered limited political reforms but a largely stay-the-course vision for the Muslim-majority nation, while touting solid economic growth.