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Malaysia's ruling party romps home in Sarawak state election.

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept. 28 Kyodo

Malaysia's ruling National Front (BN) coalition has been returned to power in Sarawak, the country's largest state, winning all but two seats in the state assembly as final results trickled in Friday.

Although the coalition was never expected to lose the election, well-known rookie contenders fielded by the National Justice Party (Keadilan) and the Pan-Islamic Party (PAS) were expected to pose a challenge.

Sarawak's BN coalition now controls 60 of the 62 seats in the legislative assembly of the sparsely populated Borneo island state.

The coalition, led by Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, won 56 seats through the ballot box and four seats uncontested. The Democratic Action Party (DAP) won one seat while the other non-BN seat went to an independent candidate.

Before the state assembly was dissolved Sept. 3, BN held 58 seats, the DAP one and independent representatives the remaining three.

Taib, who has ruled the state with an iron grip for 21 years, dissolved the assembly before its five-year term was to expire on Nov. 18.

The Sarawak BN is composed of Taib's Parti Pesaka Bumiputra, the state's biggest party, followed by the Sarawak United People's Party, Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak and the Sarawak National Party.

PAS, although strong in the peninsula, wields little influence in Sarawak, a state with more than 30 indigenous tribes.

Thursday's election marked the first time for PAS and Keadilan, a party formed in 1999 and led by Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of charismatic former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, to contest seats in the state.

Given their dismal performance in Sarawak, both parties are expected to rethink their strategies in order to pose stronger challenges to the wider BN alliance of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in the 2004 general election.

In the 1999 general election, BN made a clean sweep of all 28 parliamentary seats from Sarawak, representing 15% of the total 193 seats in the federal parliament.

Sarawak, larger than the entire peninsula, has a population of only 2.1 million, compared to the country's entire population of 23 million.

The victory in Sarawak will give a much-needed boost to Mahathir's own United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has yet to regain its footing after a protracted internal struggle due to the Anwar episode and the resurgence of PAS as a result of it.

Anwar was sacked from the cabinet and UMNO in 1998. He was subsequently sentenced to a 15-year jail term for sodomy and corruption but not before captivating the nation with his reform movement.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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