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PAS claims victory
17-Jan-2009, Strait Times, Singapore
|A campaign worker wearing a face cutout of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim campaigns from a car in Kuala Terengganu yesterday. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
KUALA TERENGGANU - MALAYSIA'S opposition on Saturday snatched a parliamentary seat from the beleaguered coalition government, in a by-election seen as a test of the nation's political mood.
The opposition alliance said the victory in northeastern Terengganu state was a huge boost to its campaign to seize power after it won a third of parliamentary seats and five states in landmark general elections last year.
'Yes we have won,' said Mr Husam Musa, vice-president of the conservative Islamic PAS party, which fielded the winning candidate on behalf of the three-party opposition alliance headed by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.
Mr Husam said Umno, which leads the Barisan Nasional coalition and has run Malaysia for half a century, had lost the support of Muslim Malay voters as well as the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
'This shows a loss of confidence of majority (Malay) voters towards UMNO, and it also represents the national mood which is to reject Umno,' he told AFP.
The official tally showed that PAS had won with a majority of 2,631, claiming 32,883 votes against 30,252 for the government which last won the seat in the state capital Kuala Terengganu with a slim majority.
'I thank the voters for giving me their trust. I will do my best,' said the victorious PAS candidate, Mohammad Abdul Wahid Endut.
Ms Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asian expert at the US-based Johns Hopkins University, who observed the by-election, said the 'decisive' victory spelt trouble for the government as it prepares for a leadership transition.
Deputy premier Najib Razak is due this March to replace Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who was a casualty of the March 2008 general elections that produced the worst results in Umno's history.
'This is going to call into question Mr Najib's rise to the prime minister's position. There will be those who will question whether he can deliver effectively,' she said.
Mr Najib personally headed the government's campaign in Kuala Terengganu, as well as another failed by-election last year which saw Anwar returned to parliament after a decade-long absence.
'Of course, this is a setback for us... We will not be disheartened by the result,' Mr Najib told a press conference, rejecting the suggestion that the outcome reflected badly on him.
'It's nothing to do with that,' he said.
Meanwhile, the opposition said its performance showed it is a working alliance despite being an unlikely partnership of PAS, Mr Anwar's multiracial Keadilan, and the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party.
'The two factors that contributed to our success are the combined efforts of all alliance partners and the credibility of the PAS candidate,' said Mustapha Ali, head of PAS in Terengganu.
'The support by Malays for Umno is diminishing now.' An opinion poll by the Merdeka Centre research firm last week indicated that support among majority Muslim Malays was split and that the votes of the ethnic Chinese who make up 11.6 per cent of the electorate could be decisive.
But Ms Welsh said that figures showed the victory had come from a shift in the Malay vote away from the government - highly significant for Umno which has counted on the majority community as its bedrock. -- AFP