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Associated Press: Malaysia’s Ruling Party Suffers Losses (*Is Shell about to lose influence in Malaysia?)

By VIJAY JOSHI – 2 hours ago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s ruling coalition suffered its biggest electoral upset in nearly four decades Saturday, losing control of three state governments and many parliamentary seats in a show of frustration over racial tensions, crime and corruption.

It was a humiliating outcome for the National Front coalition, which has governed Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, and raised questions about the political future of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

At the federal level, the coalition kept control of the 222-seat Parliament as expected. It secured a simple majority, winning 130 of the 194 seats for which the vote count was complete, according to the Electoral Commission. The opposition alliance made significant gains, winning 64 seats compared to 19 in the outgoing legislature.

“As of now we have obtained a simple majority,” said Abdullah, looking grim as he addressed reporters with his wife Jeanne and deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak by his side.

He said he would meet the constitutional monarch Sunday to stake claim on a new government, and dismissed suggestions that he would face pressure from party members to step down.

“I don’t know who would pressure me. There is nothing at this time,” he said.

“We suffered a lot of losses tonight,” Abdullah’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin told reporters. “But we are going to fight on. We are not going to quit. It is not the end of the world and we are going to get through this.”

For the first time since 1969, the National Front lost control of the assembly in northern Penang, the only state where ethnic Chinese are a majority. It also lost control of Selangor and Kedah states for the first time, and failed to wrest Kelantan state from the opposition. The opposition also had a three-seat lead in Perak state with 15 seats left to be counted.

The defeat in Penang was like “a tsunami coming in,” said Chang Ko Youn, vice president of Gerakan party, which belongs to the ruling coalition. “Nobody expected it to be so bad. I am a bit worried for the future of our party and our country.”

A key issue in the elections was disillusionment among ethnic Chinese and Indians, who have long complained of discrimination, particularly an affirmative action system that gives the Muslim Malays preference in jobs, business and education.

The program was designed 37 years ago to help the majority Malays catch up with the wealthier Chinese. But minorities complain the system continues despite rising standards of livings for Malays.

Malays make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people, while Chinese account for 25 percent and Indians 8 percent. Each ethnicity is represented by a party in the National Front, a power-sharing arrangement designed to keep racial tensions at bay.

The coalition’s election losses underscore not only anger over racial inequities but frustration among all Malaysians over rising prices, corruption and crime.

“They have not taken care of the people,” said Michael Lim, a first-time voter in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. “A lot of promises were made, but nothing fulfilled.”

Abdullah, who replaced longtime leader Mahathir Mohamad in 2003, led the Front to a landslide victory in 2004, taking 91 percent of the seats in Parliament.

But he has lost much of his popularity over the last five years. Although the economy grew by 6.3 percent in 2007, exceeding government expectations of 6 percent, many Malaysians feel the benefits have not trickled down to them.

In Penang, the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party and its allied People’s Justice Party won a simple majority in the 40-member assembly, said Chow Kon Yeow, the top Democratic Action official in Penang.

The opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party kept its control of the assembly in Kelantan — the only state where the opposition had already been in power.

“This is a defining moment, unprecedented in our nation’s history,” said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. “The people have voted decisively for a new era where the government must be truly inclusive and recognize that all Malaysians, regardless of race and color, culture and religion, are a nation of one.”

Associated Press writers Sean Yoong, Julia Zappei and Hrvoje Hranjski in Kuala Lumpur, and Eileen Ng in Kelantan contributed to this report.

Hosted by  Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

*Headline comment in brackets added by John Donovan. Shell has had a close relationship with the corrupt Malaysian government about to lose power. We have already commented on the outrageous bias recently shown by Malaysian Appeal Court Judges towards Shell.

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