Malaysia ruling party maintains winning streak in state poll

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and its allies won a supermajority in local elections for the second time in four months, strengthening its position ahead of a general election due next year.

Supporters chanted "dissolve parliament" - a precursor to a nation-wide vote - as Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob walked through the party's command centre in Johor state on Saturday (Mar 12) night. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by Umno won 40 of the 56 state assembly seats, according to the Election Commission.

The Umno win in Johor is set to renew pressure on Ismail to announce a general election soon, as his party seeks to solidify its majority following a series of short-lived coalitions that brought the country three prime ministers since 2018 - as many as Malaysia had in the previous 37 years. In November, the coalition clinched a two-thirds majority in the Malacca state election, prompting calls within the party for the national vote to be brought forward to capitalise on the momentum.

An early election may stand to benefit convicted former premier Najib Razak, whose party credited him for their success in Johor. Najib was the main campaign manager for the state polls, according to Umno chief and BN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in a victory speech on Saturday.

"Even though he is attacked endlessly, even though he is slandered to the skies, even though he is insulted by the whole country, his spirit remains strong," Zahid said to cheers from the crowd with Najib by his side.

"He not only withstands tests, but he also has extraordinary resilience. May this big win be a gift for 'bossku'," he said, referring to Najib by his nickname which translates to "my boss". Najib was Malaysia's premier from 2009 until a multi-billion ringgit corruption scandal involving state fund 1MDB cost his party the 2018 election and ended BN's six-decade rule. He has since been rehabilitating his image through social media, gaining traction among followers with his jibes against the two governments that succeeded his. The victory in Johor is set to galvanise him politically.

Located in the southern tip of peninsular Malaysia, Johor was also a test case for a new law that lowered the voting age to 18 from 21. Some 5.8 million new voters will be eligible in the next general election.

The BN coalition unveiled a slew of measures to appeal to the youth vote in Johor, including cash handouts for students and affordable housing programmes. It also picked fresh faces: about 70 per cent of candidates are running for the first time.

BN's main opponent, Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Harapan alliance, won 13 seats. The Perikatan Nasional coalition led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin won the remaining 3 seats. BLOOMBERG

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