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LEAD: Malaysia's ruling coalition loses 2 of 3 by-elections.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 8 Kyodo


Malaysia's new Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak on Tuesday suffered a blow just four days after he was sworn in, as his ruling party lost two of three by-elections widely seen as a referendum on his government and his reform pledges.

The three-party opposition People's Alliance led by charismatic leader Anwar Ibrahim trounced Najib's 13-party National Front coalition or BN in the tensely fought polls in Perak and Kedah.

Since last year's general election, BN has lost two other by-elections.

BN's only consolation was the opposition camp failed to breach its fortress in Sarawak, one of two states in the Borneo which remains the last frontier for Anwar to conquer in his aim to become the next prime minister.

Though the three by-electins will not make any difference in the current power equation, they are widely viewed as a test of people's confidence in Najib who took office last Friday vowing to implement a wide range of reforms.

''Malaysians want to change irrespective of the new prime minister. They still want a change. They are stronger in their support for the People's Alliance,'' Anwar told reporters in northern Perak state.

In the battle for a parliamentary seat in Perak, voters threw their support for ousted state Chief Minister Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin from the opposition Pan Islamic Party or PAS.

He beat Ismail Saffian from the United Malays National Organization with an even bigger margin of 2,789 votes. In the 2008 election, PAS won the seat by 1,566 votes. UMNO is the largest party in the BN coalition.

This is a slap to Najib who had engineered the February coup that overthrew Nizar and the opposition-led government of Perak, sparking a huge public outrage and endless legal mess as suits and counter-suits flew between BN and the ousted party.

PAS, Anwar's People's Justice Party or PKR and the Democratic Action Party which formed the People's Alliance, had won the state in the historic 2008 election but lost it to BN after several of their lawmakers jumped ship amid allegations of being bought over by the BN.

''This is a very strong signal from the people that they reject corruption. They want democracy and they want a free and fair election,'' Nizar told a press conference.

He said he would try again to seek consent from the Perak Sultan, the state hereditary ruler, to dissolve the state assembly and call for fresh poll in order to end the political crisis there.

In Kedah where the minority ethnic Indian issues took a center stage, PKR's candidate won the battle for a state legislative seat by beating BN with a margin of 2,403 votes.

BN's candidate is from the Malaysian Indian Congress, the third biggest party in the BN which styled itself as champion of Indian affairs. But years of corruption coupled with a delusional leadership out of touch with ground sentiment has wrecked the party, driving away its core Indian supporters into the arms of multi-racial party like PKR and DAP.

Indians make up less than 10 percent of the country's 28 million population. The Malays account for over 60 percent and the Chinese some 23 percent with the rest being indigenous groups.

''The trend is not good,'' political commentator Denison Jayasooria told Kyodo News on BN's losing four by-elections since the March 2008 general election. ''This is a message to the BN that the opposition has consolidated its base in the past one year.''

He said Najib needs to do major revamp in UMNO in order to win back support before the next general election which will be due in 2013.

Jayasooria warned, ''This might be the last term for BN. People now believe an alternative is possible.''

He noted that even non-Malay Muslims voters are rooting for PAS who has shed their ultra-conservative image in order to reach out to a wider audience while UMNO remains stuck in their mould, putting off the non-Malays with their constant harping of ''Malay supremacy.''

BN's coalition partner Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon said BN needs to work hard over the next two years.

''This will be the great challenge for the next two years,'' he said in a statement, ''As BN is still leading the federal government, BN has a good platform to perform, implement positive reform and good policies benefiting the people.''
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Publication:Asian Political News
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Apr 13, 2009
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