Malaysia’s Anwar thwarts opposition challenge in state polls

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.

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