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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 20:38 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Malaysian ministers hail Mahathir's victory

Polling stations were busy on the second day of voting

By South East Asia Correspondent Simon Ingram

Government ministers in Malaysia have welcomed the outcome of the provincial election in the eastern state of Sabah which saw the ruling National Front coalition return to power with a convincing majority.

Malaysia Crisis Section
Only one other party, the opposition, Sabah United Party or PBS, will be represented in the new 48-seat state assembly.

The ease of the National Front's victory seems to have caught even some government officials by surprise.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Badawi hailed a resounding success which, he said demonstrated that the majority of Sabah's inhabitants wanted the Front and its policies.

Fraud claims

But while the government and its allies celebrated, the opposition was seething.

[ image: Waiting to vote in a crucial test for the prime minister]
Waiting to vote in a crucial test for the prime minister
The PBS, which will hold 17 seats in the new State Assembly, says the polling process and the campaign which preceded it, were characterised by extensive voter manipulation, intimidation and outright fraud.

PBS leader Joseph Pairin said his agents had detected more than 50,000 instances of people voting illegally - deployed by the bus load to constituencies which the National Front feared it would lose.

Independent poll monitors have also gathered evidence of malpractice during the two days of polling but nothing on this scale.

Massive resources

What was evident was the large, even threatening presence of National Front supporters around polling stations, proof of the government's willingness to deploy massive resources in order to thwart its opponents.

By retaining control of Sabah, Malaysia's second largest, but poorest state, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed has eased the pressure on his leadership that arose from the dismissal and prosecution of his former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.

It might even persuade him to call early elections in the rest of the country which must be held in any case within the next 12 months.

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