The defeat of Malaysia’s ruling coalition in two by-elections signals a clear rejection of new Prime Minister Najib Razak, the opposition said yesterday, voicing concern he would resort to repression to cement his power.
The ruling coalition brushed off the losses, saying Najib needed more time to make an impression.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said his People’s Alliance increased the margin of victories in Tuesday’s polls despite Najib’s pledge of wide-ranging reforms after taking office last Friday.
“Clearly, it is a referendum [on Najib] because the entire line of [the government’s] campaign was that: ‘We have a new leader, give him a chance.’ That has crumbled,’’ he told reporters.
IN PURSUIT OF CHANGE
The results “demonstrated that the people of Malaysia remain committed to change,” he said.
The three-member People’s Alliance retained a parliament seat in northern Perak state and a state seat in northern Kedah state.
It lost in the race for a rural state seat in Sarawak on Borneo island, but Anwar said the opposition suspected foul play because vote-counting was not done in the polling booths but at another center in at least 14 areas.
The polls were to fill vacancies caused by two deaths and one resignation. The results do not change the balance of power at the federal or state level.
The National Front coalition has downplayed the loss, saying Najib has yet to make his mark.
“The feel-good factor from the power transition is still too new and has not sunk in,” said Najib’s right-hand man, Muhyiddin Yasin.
“I am confident that when the new leadership begin their duties and when reforms are implemented, it will convince the people,” said Muhyiddin, who is expected to be appointed deputy prime minister in the new Cabinet.
Najib is likely to announce his Cabinet today or by next week.
Anwar warned that Najib may resort to draconian measures to seal his rule, especially following the return of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to the ruling party. Mahathir, who ruled for 22 years until 2003, was known for his authoritarian ways.
“We expect more repressive measures by Najib as advised by the old prime minister. There is this strong consternation that the old order, the old regime that is repressive and intolerant, will be back,” he said.
Mahathir quit the party last year after clashing with his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who stepped down as prime minister and party president in favor of Najib.
With Tuesday’s result, the National Front will remain with 137 seats in the 222-member parliament, while the People’s Alliance will have 81 seats. Four other members are independents.
Anwar said Tuesday’s polls had given renewed momentum to his opposition alliance and voiced confidence it could “easily form the next government” in general elections due by 2013.