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Malaysia's ruling party hit by 'political tsunami' in worst electoral upset




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Sunday, March 9, 2008
AP


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysians delivered a stinging rebuke to the ruling coalition in a massive protest vote that gave opposition parties control of five states and one-third of the parliament, raising questions about the political future of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"Political tsunami," screamed a banner headline Sunday in The Star newspaper, referring to the biggest electoral upset for the ruling Barisan Nasional, or National Front, in Saturday's general elections.

Abdullah's predecessor Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for his resignation.

"He needs to consider stepping down," Mahathir, who had picked Abdullah to succeed him in 2003, told reporters.

Abdullah's National Front coalition, which won its biggest victory ever in the last elections in 2004, lost two-thirds control of the house for the first time since 1969. It managed to win only 139 seats for a simple majority in the 222-member Parliament, the worst result for the party that has governed Malaysia since independence in 1957.

A tired looking Abdullah faced reporters early Sunday, flanked by his wife, Jeanne, and Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak by his side. He said he will meet the constitutional monarch on Monday to stake a claim on forming a new government.

Abdullah dismissed suggestions by a reporter that he would now face pressure from party members to step down.

"I don't know who would pressure me. There is nothing at this time," he said.

The opposition alliance of the Democratic Action Party, the People's Justice Party and the Islamic Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, or PAS, won 82 seats. Re-polling will be held in one remaining constituency. The opposition had 19 seats in the outgoing Parliament.

The opposition rode on a wave of protest stemming from disillusionment among minority ethnic Chinese and Indians who have long complained about discrimination _ particularly an affirmative action system that gives the majority Muslim Malays preference in jobs, business and education. Ordinary Malaysians, including Malays, were upset over rising prices and crime.

"This is a defining moment, unprecedented in our nation's history," said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. "The people have voted decisively for a new era where the government must be truly inclusive and recognize that all Malaysians, regardless of race and color, culture and religion, are a nation of one."

There was more bad news for the coalition in elections for 12 state legislatures.

The National Front lost control of the assembly in northern Penang, the only state where ethnic Chinese are a majority. It also lost control of Selangor, Kedah and Perak states for the first time, and failed to wrest Kelantan state back from the opposition.

The unexpected defeat led government-controlled newspapers, which rarely criticize the Front, to take a look at the coalition's faults.

"While the non-Malays had their share of unhappiness, there were issues that cut across all races, such as the cost of living, corruption, mismanagement and security," wrote Wong Chun Wai, editor-in-chief of the Sunday Star daily.

He said that federal-state relations "will never be the same again."



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