Malaysia’s political blocs shared gains in regional elections, but the opposition won a challenge for the ruling coalition.
Malaysian voters upheld the political status quo in key regional elections, giving Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s ruling coalition and the conservative opposition control of three states each.
Elections in six of Malaysia’s 13 states on Saturday were widely seen as a referendum on Anwar’s leadership and the strength of the opposition after a divisive general election last November.
Data from the Election Commission showed Anwar’s multiethnic Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance winning the three states it held before the vote: Selangor and Penang, which is the country’s richest, as well as Negeri Seven.
The results also show the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN), which includes the religiously conservative Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), holding the heartland states of Kedah, Kelantan and northern Terengganu.
Anwar welcomed the results at an overnight press conference and called for unity.
“This is a decision of the people. We must respect this decision,” said the prime minister.
“The federal government remains strong after this poll and we will continue to promote a prosperous Malaysia,” he added.
The opposition, however, called the result a “defeat” for the ruling coalition.
Muhyiddin Yassin, who heads the PN, noted the strong victory of the opposition bloc, including in Selangor where it increased its share of seats from five in the last election to 22 and denied the ruling coalition its two-thirds majority. .
In Penang, the opposition bloc won 11 seats, up from one in the previous vote, and in Negeri Sembilan, it won five seats, up from zero in the previous election.
Muhyiddin called the result “very encouraging” and said the “state polls are a referendum of the people who rejected the Pakatan Harapan-led unity government”.
He said Anwar and his deputy, Zahid Hamidi, should resign to “take responsibility for this defeat”.
Analysts, meanwhile, said the result increased pressure on Anwar and would boost the stability of his new government.
The 76-year-old politician took office in November at the head of a unity government after a general election that resulted in an unprecedented parliament.
Anwar’s PH won the most seats but lacked the absolute majority needed to form a government. Under the king’s rule, PH and rival parties, including a former enemy, the corruption-tainted United Malays National Organization (UMNO), combined to secure a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
But analysts say this loose alliance is considered unstable and needs stronger support from the Malay majority.
Oh Ei Sun, an analyst at Malaysia’s Pacific Research Center think tank, said Saturday’s result was “a nail-biting victory for Anwar after he fended off a challenge from the powerful Islamic party PAS”.
But Anwar “must remain cautious”, Oh said.
“There is no guarantee that his government will remain until the next general election.”
Mustafa Izzuddin, a political analyst with consultancy Solaris Strategies Singapore, told the AFP news agency that “this is in many ways a stress reliever for Anwar who will not face any major political changes that can change the status quo”.
But the result was also a disappointment in that “his coalition did not make many significant advances”, Mustafa said.
However, Anwar “has more than enough time” before the 2027 general election “to build support including the complex political bargaining that must take place within the coalition”, he added.