BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Asia-Pacific
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Wednesday, 29 November, 2000, 15:54 GMT
Mahathir's coalition loses by-election
Chinese woman casting her ballot
The Chinese vote was critical in the poll
The ruling government of Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has lost a bitterly-contested by-election.

It's a big blow when he [Mahathir] cannot even win in his own state

Lim Guan Eng
The loss is seen as a blow for Mr Mahathir, as the seat was contested in his home state of Kedah.

Saifuddin Nasution Ismail of the Keadilan party, or National Justice Party, took the Lunas seat by a wafer-thin majority of 530 votes.

The party is led by Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Anwar Ibrahim - the former deputy of Mr Mahathir who was sacked and later jailed.

The PM may be haunted by Anwar
The poll - held a year to the day after the general election - was seen as a popularity test for both sides.

"It's a big blow when he [Mahathir] cannot even win in his own state," said Lim Guan Eng, national vice-chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party.

"It's in his own backyard. If he cannot win here, he can't win in other places," Mr Lim, a former MP jailed for sedition, told BBC News Online.

Members from parties in Mr Mahathir's coalition argued the result should not be seen as a reflection of the ruling government's popularity, saying the opposition had exploited racism among the electorate.

The poll was held after the incumbent, from Dr Mahathir's coalition, died. Turnout was said to be high, estimated at nearly 80%.

Chinese vote crucial

The win may indicate a slip in support for the government among the Chinese community, which made up over a third of the electorate in Lunas.

Muslims praying
Many Chinese are wary of a fundamentalist Islamic party in the opposition alliance
In last year's general election, Chinese votes helped the ruling government retain power as many ethnic Malays - angry with treatment of Mr Anwar - voted for the opposition.

Many Chinese were wary of the opposition alliance, which includes a fundamentalist Islamic party, Pas.

However, a recent controversial government plan for Chinese-language schools may have helped erode support for the government among the community.

Malay woman outside a Chinese temple
Race and religion play a key role in Malaysian politics
Also, earlier in the year, Mr Mahathir had strongly criticised a Chinese pressure group and reaffirmed that the ruling government would retain special privileges for ethnic Malays.

The campaign was marked by bitter in-fighting among the opposition alliance - made up of four parties.

There were accusations of racism when the Keadilan party refused to field an ethnic Indian candidate and selected a Malay.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

09 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: 'Anwar factor' lives on
18 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Row over Malay privileges
15 Nov 99 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Malaysia's strongman Mahathir
08 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: What future for Anwar?
08 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
A crisis unfolds: Timeline
02 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysia's snap election: Special report
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories