Malaysia’s embattled PM wins crucial state polls

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) – Malaysia’s seven-month-old ruling alliance triumphed on Saturday in its first electoral test in eastern Sabah state, a major victory for embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin amid challenges to his leadership.

Sabah was ruled by the opposition and the state poll was seen as a referendum for Muhyiddin’s unelected government. Analysts said the victory could push Muhyiddin to call for early national elections to bolster his coalition that has a thin two-seat majority in Parliament.

Voters wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus wait for their turn at a polling station during a state election on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu, in Malaysia’s Sabah state on Borneo island, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. Photo: AP

The win could also help Muhyiddin thwart a challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who declared last Wednesday he has secured majority support in the national Parliament to oust Muhyiddin and form a new government.

Muhyiddin said in a brief televised speech that his camp has won 38 out of the 73 state seats, enough to form a new state government, and thanked Sabah voters for their trust.

“Muhyiddin has secured enough of a strong performance to strengthen his legitimacy,” said Bridget Welsh, honorary research associate at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia.

Sabah and neighbouring Sarawak on Borneo island hold about a quarter of the seats in Parliament and are seen as crucial for political leverage. The two states are rich in oil and timber, but are among the poorest in Malaysia.