PARTI Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) on Sunday retained a seat in the Kedah state legislature by a slim margin in a by-election, denying victory to Barisan Nasional led by its new chief minister Mukhriz Mahathir.
PAS won the Sungai Limau constituency by 1,084 votes, down from a margin of 2,774 in the May general election.
The constituency, which is close to Kedah state capital Alor Setar, has been a PAS stronghold since the Islamic party won it in 1995.
Sungai Limau residents consist mainly of padi farmers and fishermen, with Malay voters forming 93 per cent of the 27,222 voters.
The by-election - the second since the general election - was called following the death of Tan Sri Azizan Razak, 69, who was formerly Kedah menteri besar.
BN won back Kedah in May, ousted the ailing Mr Azizan and installed as menteri besar Datuk Mukhriz, youngest son of former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
PAS candidate Mohd Azam Samat, the 37-year-old director of PAS kindergartens, secured 12,069 votes, with an 85.5 per cent voter turnout. His opponent, university lecturer Ahmad Sohaimi Lazaim, 52, scored 10,985 votes.
"The result is as expected," said political analyst Ibrahim Suffian of pollster Merdeka Centre. "In a by-election, the BN side can generally put in more resources and pay more attention to a place, so it is difficult for PAS to maintain its margin."
PAS needed to retain the Sungai Limau ward to prove it still held sway among Malay voters after the major blow of losing Kedah just six months ago.
PAS, a member of the three-party federal opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat, campaigned using the "Kekal", or "retain", slogan.
Umno, linchpin of the 13-party BN, campaigned using the slogan "Berani Hijrah", or "dare to migrate". Its key target was the 11,000 voters below 35 who may have been ready for a change.
The narrow win serves both parties: PAS can say it remains popular among Malays despite the channelling of millions of dollars by BN for the by-election while Umno can claim it has won hearts by eroding support for PAS, its main rival Malay party.
Unlike the usual staid campaigning in rural areas, Mr Mukhriz brought "the people's carnival" to the padi fields with stalls selling food and knick-knacks and fun-fair games.
Tun Dr Mahathir, a Kedah native, turned up on the last day of campaigning to ask voters to back his son, in ways only he can. "The Menteri Besar is my son, his name is Mukhriz," he said.
"He is bald because I keep all the hair. He is bald because he is thinking what else can be done for the people of Kedah," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.