KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s ruling coalition thwarted a challenge by an opposition alliance in state elections, official results showed Sunday, with analysts saying the win would buy him time to consolidate power in the largely Islamic Southeast Asian nation.
Saturday’s vote in six states had been the toughest political challenge yet to Anwar, who was appointed prime minister in November last year to head a unity government after an indecisive general election.
The election of state assembly members does not affect Anwar’s current two-thirds majority in parliament. It was, however, widely seen as a barometer of support for Anwar, including his push for a more inclusive society in which minority ethnicities could be allowed greater participation in the largely Malay Muslim nation, which also has large Chinese and Indian populations.
Results released by the Election Commission showed that Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan coalition retained three states: Selangor, Penang and Negeri Sembilan.
The opposition alliance Perikatan Nasional -- whose key member the PAS party aims to create a theocratic state in Malaysia -- kept its hold on Kedah, Terengganu and Kelantan.
Retaining Selangor, which hosts the country’s biggest port, and Penang, home to Malaysia’s thriving semiconductor industry, are prized wins for Anwar, analysts said.
The ruling coalition, however, lost its two-thirds majority in Selangor, as the opposition made strong inroads. Perikatan is backed by the Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, whose strong performance in last year’s general elections had sparked ruling party concerns it could spring a surprise and flip one or two states to the opposition.
“This is a decision of the people. We have to respect this decision,” Anwar said of the results at a late-night press conference as he also appealed for unity after a divisive campaign. “The federal government remains strong after this poll and we will continue to promote a prosperous Malaysia,” he added.
Oh Ei Sun of the Pacific Research Center of Malaysia think tank said “it was a nail-biting win for Anwar after he thwarted the challenge from the powerful Islamic party PAS”.
Bridget Welsh, a Malaysia expert from the University of Nottingham, said retaining the three states was a “victory for Anwar” as “he had gone into this campaign defensively”. “It was in many ways a stress reliever for Anwar not to be confronted with any major political shifts that could alter the status quo,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst with consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore.