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Malaysia's ruling coalition loses 2/3 majority


Latest update : 2008-03-09

Malaysia's ruling National Front coalition won a simple majority in the general elections, but failed to retain 2/3 of the seats in parliament, putting the prime minister's future at risk. (Report: T.Grucza)

Malaysia's ruling party faced its biggest electoral debacle on Sunday, as the opposition won five of 13 states, putting a dark cloud on the prime minister's political future.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's multi-racial National Front coalition managed to win just a simple majority in parliament and will form the government at the federal level.

But it lost a crucial two-thirds parliamentary majority it has held for most of its 50-year-long rule, the election body said. That level is needed to change the constitution.

The leftist Chinese-backed Democratic Action Party (DAP) won Penang state, which houses many multinational firms.

The opposition Islamist party PAS scored shock victories in the northern heartland states of Kedah and Perak and easily retained power in its stronghold in northeastern Kelantan state.

DAP and PAS also joined the People's Justice Party, or Parti Keadilan, to take control of the industrial state of Selangor and almost all the seats in capital Kuala Lumpur.

"Tomorrow we will start building a brighter future," opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim, whose wife heads Parti Keadilan, told reporters. "This is a new dawn for Malaysia."

The shock defeat in Penang stirred memories of the last time the ruling coalition failed to win a two-thirds majority, in 1969, when deadly race riots erupted between majority ethnic Malays and minority Chinese.

"This is the biggest defeat ever since our (party's) founding 40 years ago," Penang Chief Minister Koh Tsu Koon said. "I feel sad and surprised. I urge all National Front members to stay calm and not to take any action that could jeopardise peace and security in the state."

Police vowed to use tough internal security laws against anyone spreading rumours and banned victory processions, one of which had triggered the 1969 violence.

Results from the elections commission as of 2100 GMT showed the National Front with 137 seats in the 222-seat parliament versus 82 for the opposition, with 3 seats still being tallied.



"This looks like a revolution," PAS Vice-President Husam Musa said. "The people have risen and are united. The message to government is, 'Enough is enough.'"

The poll, called before it was due in May 2009, was widely seen as a referendum on Abdullah's rule, and Malaysians took the opportunity to administer a stinging rebuke over price rises, religious disputes and concerns over corruption .

"I think the PM will potentially have to resign," said Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia specialist at Johns Hopkins University in the United States. "This is unprecedented. The only other time this happened was in 1969 and that's why everybody is very nervous now because of the uncertainty."

Works Minister Samy Vellu, chief of the Malaysian Indian Congress, one of the National Front parties, lost the seat he had held for nearly 30 years, because many Indians thought he was out of touch with their concerns.

Two other cabinet ministers, both ethnic Malays, also lost.

Detained ethnic Indian activist and lawyer M. Manoharan delivered another slap in the face of the government, winning a parliamentary seat despite being held under internal security laws for organising a major anti-government protest last year.

Chinese and Indians account for a third of the population of 26 million and many complain the government discriminates in favour of Malays when it comes to education, jobs, business and religious policy.

About 70 percent of Malaysia's 10.9 million eligible voters had cast ballots, the country's top poll official said.

Opposition rallies drew big crowds, especially Chinese and Indian voters unhappy with Abdullah's Malay-dominated coalition.

"This clearly shows Malaysians want an alternative. Going forward Malays, Indians and Chinese all have to work together and make a formidable pact," Anwar said.

The National Front held 90 percent of the seats in the outgoing federal parliament. Political experts had predicted Abdullah's continued leadership could be in jeopardy if his majority fell back below 80 percent, or around 178 seats, in the new 222-seat parliament.

The economy grew 6 percent last year but inflation and a likely U.S. economic slowdown have fueled worries.

Date created : 2008-03-08