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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 13:05 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysian poll results soon

Monitors report a good turnout on Friday and Saturday

The first results are expected in the Sabah election, which is seen as a crucial test for Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The official election commission reported a strong turnout among voters and said the process had gone off smoothly.

Malaysia Crisis Section
However, independent poll monitors reported scattered incidents of voter manipulation and an excessive presence at polling stations of officials from the ruling National Front coalition.

Although the election result in Sabah will have no effect on the federal government, the poll is the first since Dr Mahathir sacked his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, sparking months of civil unrest.

[ image:  ]
Dr Mahathir's governing National Front coalition is fighting to retain control of the state assembly against a strong opposition challenge.

Voter turnout was reported to be around 70% and polling stations were much busier on the second day of voting, Saturday, than Friday.

BBC South East Asia Correspondent Simon Ingram, who is in Sabah, says the main complaint of the independent monitors seems to have been the ruling coalition's tactics of "thronging" many polling stations. One monitor described the atmosphere as intimidating.

Simon Ingram in Sabah: Counting is underway
Unconfirmed early indicators say that no party will have an overall majority in the 48-seat Sabah state assembly.

Our correspondent says Sabah politics are renowned for their horse trading and murky back room deals, and such tactics could well come in to play when the results are known.

Opposition challenge

The PBS and Bersekutu opposition coalition groups have both traded heavily on a widely-held view that Sabah needs a local coalition rather than one based in far away west Malaysia.

[ image: Prime Minister Mahathir on the campaign trail]
Prime Minister Mahathir on the campaign trail
Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and a delegation from Kuala Lumpur, launched a vigorous counter campaign, warning that a state administration led by the opposition would receive scant support from the central government.

There have been opposition allegations of election fraud being carried out by Front officials.

For his part, the prime minister said that "cheating" by the two main opposition parties could deny the Front victory.

National focus

The result is keenly awaited in light of the political turmoil stemming from the dismissal and subsequent prosecution of Mr Anwar.

Sabah has been largely unaffected by the events following Mr Anwar's dismissal. But all Malaysians are expected to scrutinise the results of the vote for hints about the prime minister's political future.

Correspondents say Dr Mahathir's coalition can ill-afford a loss in Sabah, as it could mark the beginning of an electoral sweep against him on the peninsula.

National elections are not due until 2000, although there is speculation that they could be called earlier.

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