Malaysia’s premier Najib Razak was dealt a rebuke by voters Tuesday, losing two of three by-elections seen as a referendum on support for his new leadership and promised reforms.
The votes were the first test for Najib, who was sworn in last Friday, and provided a snapshot of the public mood one year after the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition was humbled in disastrous general elections.
The coalition won one of Tuesday’s ballots, for a seat in the state parliament in Sarawak on Borneo island, with a convincing majority that showed it remains the dominant political force in the underdeveloped region.
But the opposition scored a landslide victory in the most prominent of the three polls, in Bukit Gantang in northern Perak state, claiming another seat in the national parliament and a major boost to its credibility.
It also won the hotly contested third election, for a seat in the state parliament of northern Kedah.
Anwar Ibrahim, who leads the three-member opposition alliance and made a failed bid to unseat the government last year with the help of defectors, was elated by the performance.
“Malaysians want change, irrespective of the new prime minister,” he told AFP.
He said the winds of change were “still blowing” after the landmark general elections a year ago in which the opposition seized control of five of Malaysia’s 13 states and a third of seats in parliament.
Najib has announced an ambitious agenda to reform the ruling party UMNO, which represents majority Muslim Malays, and repair ties with the nation’s ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
But after his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi failed to implement his own promised reforms during his six years in power, there is scepticism over whether Najib can deliver.
“It is definitely a bruising for Najib,” said political analyst Shaharuddin Badaruddin.
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