KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia’s long-governing coalition won national elections Sunday to extend its 56 years of unbroken rule, fending off the strongest opposition it has ever faced but exposing unresolved vulnerabilities in the process.
The Election Commission reported that Prime Minister Najib Razak’sNational Front coalition captured 124 of Malaysia’s 222parliamentary seats to win a majority Sunday. Opposition leaderAnwar Ibrahim’s three-party alliance seized 73 seats, and other races were too close to call.
It was the National Front’s 13th consecutive victory in general elections since independence from Britain in 1957. It faced its most unified challenge ever from an opposition that hoped to capitalize on allegations of arrogance, abuse of public funds and racial discrimination against the government.
Najib urged all Malaysians to accept his coalition’s victory. “We have to show to the world that we are a mature democracy,” he said.
“Despite the extent of the swing against us, (the National Front) did not fall,” he said in a nationally televised news conference.
Anwar signaled the opposition might dispute the results, saying “irregularities” cost his alliance numerous seats with narrow margins. Within minutes of the National Front’s declaration of victory, thousands of Malaysian opposition supporters replaced their Facebook profile photos with black boxes in a coordinated sign of dismay.
The Election Commission estimated more than 10 million voted for a record turnout of 80 percent of 13 million registered voters. They were also voting to fill vacancies in 12 of Malaysia’s 13 state legislatures.
Though it retained power, the National Front is weaker than it was at its peak in 2004, when it won 90 percent of Parliament’s seats, and it remained unclear whether it would improve upon the 135 seats it held in Parliament before it disbanded this month ahead of the vote. The coalition was anxious to secure a stronger five-year mandate and regain the two-thirds legislative majority that it held for years but lost in 2008.
Three well-known Cabinet ministers and at least one state chief minister were likely to lose their parliamentary seats. The Malaysian Chinese Association, the second-biggest party in the ruling coalition, saw many of its candidates defeated as Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese minority community continued to abandon the National Front.
A major difference between the ruling coalition and Anwar’s alliance are coalition affirmative-action policies that benefit the majority but often poor Malay population. Malay leaders in the National Front say those policies are still needed to help poorer Malays, but opposition critics say they’ve been abused to benefit mainly well-connected Malays, and that all underprivileged Malaysians should get help regardless of race.