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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 20:40 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Mahathir wins Sabah election

"Voting followed ethnic lines"

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad has won his first electoral test since sacking his deputy.

With all 48 results declared the prime minister's National Front coalition has won 31 seats, short of the two-thirds majority Dr Mahathir had wanted, and well down on the 43 held previously.

Malaysia Crisis Section
The main challenger, the Christian-led Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS), captured 17 seats, significantly up on the four it had held in the outgoing assembly, and making it the undisputed second party in the state.

The vote, as in the past, has closely followed ethnic lines with Muslim areas voting solidly for the Front and the ethnic Kadazandusun population, now a minority in Sabah, voting PBS.


The BBC South East Asia Correspondent, Simon Imgram, says the result will be a boost for Dr Mahathir, after the unrest since he sacked Anwar Ibrahim as his deputy.

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

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.

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

Our correspondent, 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.

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 wins despite opposition gains]
Prime Minister Mahathir wins despite opposition gains
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 has been 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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