MALAYSIA - Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) won a closely watched by-election in Terengganu with an increased majority on Wednesday, sweeping aside fears that it would lose its one-seat majority in the state legislature.
BN candidate Tengku Zaihan Abdul Rahman, 37, defeated his opponent Azlan Yusof, 48, from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) by 8,288 votes to 5,696 votes in the Kuala Besut constituency.
It was the first by-election after a hard-fought general election on May 5.
The 2,600-vote majority was an improvement over the ruling party's 2,400-vote win in May, a result that BN's by-election director and Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he was "grateful" for.
Analysts said that while the government would be relieved with Wednesday's result, the slightly higher majority might not be significant enough to bolster either the position of the BN in the state, or that of Prime Minister Najib Razak ahead of Umno's party polls slated to be held later this year.
Still, the win averted what would have been an unprecedented outcome - a hung state assembly in Terengganu - and an embarrassment for the BN, which held only a one-seat majority after the Umno assemblyman for Kuala Besut died last month.
BN leaders, including Terengganu Menteri Besar Ahmad Said, raised their hands and cheered when the result was announced last Wednesday night.
"Although this was done during Ramadan, where campaigning had to be low-key, we have managed to approach all our voters," Tan Sri Muhyiddin said after the announcement.
"That has allowed us to get a better majority, which was the most important thing."
He added that the result was a "good birthday present" for Datuk Seri Najib, who turned 60 on Tuesday.
Kuala Besut, a rural town that is home to many fishermen and farmers, is seen as a stronghold for the BN, which has held the seat since 2004.
During the 13-day campaign, the BN announced more than RM300 million (S$119 million) worth of projects for the constituency.
Political analyst Ibrahim Suffian said the win "removes a distraction for Najib at the Umno general assembly, because a loss would have seen him come under attack from his opponents".
"But he would have needed to win Kuala Besut by many more votes to really strengthen his hand," he added. "The fact remains that the BN nearly lost Terengganu." Conversely, PAS' loss - and, in particular, its inability to reduce the BN's majority - was a blow to the Islamist party, which had ruled Terengganu for one term in 1999.
"It appears that while many Malaysians are supportive of PAS' call for clean politics, they may still be uncomfortable with the party in a governing position, as it stresses more on religious correctness than economic development," said analyst Oh Ei Sun.
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