KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition looked set to win by-elections in two of its strongholds Sunday, in what could be the last polls ahead of general elections expected this year.
Voting was brisk at polls in Kerdau, in eastern Pahang state and Merlimau in southern Malacca state, and results will be seen as a barometer for when premier Najib Razak will call national polls, to be held by 2013. “It is almost a given that the BN will win in the two by-elections in their bastions,” political analyst Shahruddin Badaruddin told AFP, with local media also predicting a win for the government. He said the outcome will not alter power in the states, which are ruled by the coalition, but a convincing victory would indicate that support for Najib has grown, as speculation about a looming general election grows. “If the BN win by a bigger majority in these by-elections, especially in Kerdau, which has a large population of Malays, then it is likely that Najib will consider having early polls by the end of the year,” he said. Shahruddin said that in the last few by-elections, the ruling coalition has seen a 3 to 4 percent increase in support from Malays, who form the majority in the multiethnic nation, but has yet to win back support from the Chinese community. Najib took over from his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2009, promising to reform the government and an affirmative action policy for Malays which has been criticized as exploitative and fuelling corruption. Shahruddin said little action appears to have been taken and strong support remains for a resurgent opposition led by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, despite him facing a sodomy trial amid infighting in his alliance. The ruling coalition has so far won six out of the 14 by-elections since the 2008 polls, where they lost control of their two-thirds majority in parliament and four states. The opposition initially had a dream run that left it victorious in eight of the first 11 by-elections held, results seen as a sign it had cemented its support among voters.
However, the government then won two by-elections last November and one in January this year, in a major boost for its morale.