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Malaysia's Barisan Nasional retains by-election seat with reduced majority

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Barisan Nasional candidate Hasan Arifin defeated Parti Islam se-Malaysia's Nazri Ahmad in Rompin in the state of Pahang by 8,895 votes, the Election Commission of Malaysia said on its website on Tuesday.

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's ruling coalition won a by-election in a district bordering Prime Minister Najib Razak's with a smaller majority amid unhappiness over a new consumption tax and rising living costs.

Barisan Nasional candidate Hasan Arifin defeated Parti Islam se-Malaysia's Nazri Ahmad in Rompin in the state of Pahang by 8,895 votes, the Election Commission of Malaysia said on its website on Tuesday. Voter turnout fell to 73 per cent, compared with 85.9 per cent in the 2013 general elections, the Star reported, without saying where it got the information.

The by-election was triggered by the death of parliamentarian Jamaluddin Jarjis in April. Jamaluddin, a former minister and Malaysia's envoy to the US from 2009 to 2012, was killed along with five others when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur.

The helicopter was returning from a wedding reception for Najib's daughter in Pahang when the accident occurred. The prime minister's chief of staff also died in the crash.

In the 2013 general elections, Jamaluddin won with 30,040 votes and had a majority of 15,114 over his PAS rival. He garnered about 66.8 per cent of valid votes. His successor won about 61.5 per cent Tuesday.

Najib has seen his approval rating slide to around 40 per cent as he undertakes unpopular economic measures to plug a budget gap. A January survey by the Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research showed 47 per cent of voters in Peninsular Malaysia who were polled said they feel the country is "headed in the wrong direction" compared with 39 per cent who said it was on the right track.

Negative sentiments were mainly driven by concerns over the high cost of living, general conditions of the economy, and concerns over a new 6 per cent goods and services tax, the Merdeka Centre said.

The Rompin by-election is the first of two this week. Former deputy prime minister and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was forced to vacate his seat in the state of Penang after his imprisonment for sodomy, and the contest to succeed him will be held on Thursday.

BLOOMBERG