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Date: 01 Dec 1999
Malaysia's Mahathir in command, opposition laments wasted chance
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 (AFP) - Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday celebrated an emphatic poll victory which secured his legacy as Asia's longest-serving elected leader but also saw big gains by an Islamic opposition.
Despite predictions of a major backlash over the Anwar Ibrahim affair, Mahathir's National Front coalition won 148 of the 193 parliamentary seats and kept power in nine of 11 state assemblies.
The Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) and not the secular opposition parties proved the biggest winner from the issue of ex-deputy premier Anwar, whose sacking and treatment last year divided the sympathies of ethnic Malays.
PAS more than tripled its parliamentary seats to 27, kept control of Kelantan state assembly in the northern Malay heartland and captured neighbouring Terengganu.
Biggest loser was the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), which in its leader's words had been for three decades "the outspoken, courageous lone political voice for a democratic and secular Malaysia."
The National Justice Party (Keadilan) won five seats. It was formed by Anwar's wife Wan Azizah just before he was jailed for six years in April for abusing his powers.
PAS, the DAP, Keadilan and the small Malaysian People's Party are part of the Alternative Front alliance. Anwar was its candidate for premier.
Some analysts said the result indicated widening divisions among the Malays who make up more than half the country's 22 million population. Chinese account for some 30 percent and Indians 10 percent.
"The Malay world is in turmoil and nothing has made that more evident than this general election," the pro-government Sun newspaper said in an editorial.
It said the result erased any doubt about Mahathir's command of the political scene with an emphatic win in his fifth and probably last election at age 73.
But as the premier cut a cake early Tuesday to cheers and shouts of "Mahathir boleh" (Mahathir can), the daily warned PAS gains signalled a "dissatisfied, protesting Malay multitude." It said the ruling party must now find ways to unite the community.
DAP leader Lim Kit Siang, who lost his own seat, described the election as "a historic opportunity missed" to end the National Front's political domination.
"It has set the country on an uncertain and perilous course," he said.
Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the backbone of the National Front, will be "under great pressure to respond to the PAS challenge by competing on Islamisation policies to win back the Malay heartland," he added.
Wan Azizah hailed the opposition's achievement but blamed "scare tactics" by pro-government media and the exclusion of 680,000 new voters from the electoral roll for the failure to make a breakthrough.
Hoarse after days of successful campaigning to capture Anwar's old seat, she told AFP: "We have reduced their majority considerably. A little edge would have given us victory. We have to work a little harder."
Wan Azizah said her seven-month-old party had "done a lot."
"Malays have given us support -- our support was mainly from Malay areas."
PAS president Fadzil Noor said his party would bring the people development and ensure its two state governments were clean and free of corruption.
The Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Election, which deployed observers at polling stations in eight states, said it found traces of fraud such as phantom voters and could not conclude the election was "free and fair."
Sunai Phasuk, a member of the watchdog, said migrants from the Philippines were given identity cards on condition they vote for the National Front. Watchdogs also received reports of the use of fake identity cards in other states.
The group said the irregularities did not mean the overall result of the poll was invalid.
State Bernama news agency said Mahathir was expected to meet the king early Wednesday to brief him on the formation of a new government.