Heavy campaigning on both sides but Barisan National wins, writes Asia Sentinel

Malaysia’s opposition Pakatan Rakyat has been defeated in a suburban Kuala Lumpur by-election that had been billed as a referendum on Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s economic and social policies. Zaid Ibrahim, a one-time justice minister turned possible successor to the embattled Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, lost the seat to a Malaysian Indian Congress functionary by a healthy 1,725 votes.

The Hulu Selangor race appears to have been the hardest fought and perhaps most significant of the 10 by-elections since the opposition Pakatan Rakyat broke the national coalition’s two-thirds hold on the Dewan Rakyat, or parliament in March 2008 national elections and it has raised speculation that Najib believes his strengthening coalition will be able to call national elections in 2011.

P Kalamanathan, a Malaysian Indian Congress spokesman who was personally selected by Najib against the wishes of MIC head S. Samy Vellu, won 24,997 votes against Zaid’s 23,272. The result reduces the opposition’s membership in the Dewan Rakyat to 75 against the Barisan Nasional’s 139. It was the second straight by-election win for the Barisan.

Voting was heavy early in the Hulu Selangor constituency, a variegated district to the northeast of Kuala Lumpur, with an eventual turnout of 75.8 percent, election officials said. The contest for the seat, in which both sides have spent state funds heavily and often, and each accused the other of such offences as drinking beer and faking college credentials, was also viewed by analysts as a test of whether he has been able to rebuild the scandal-wracked Barisan and whether the Pakatan Rakyat’s ability to rule the populous state it won in 2008 had found resonance with the voters.

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