Malaysia‘s longest-governing party stormed to victory in closely watched state polls Saturday, gaining a boost in power ahead of a general election.
The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) was the lynchpin of a coalition that governed Malaysia for six decades until it was booted from power in 2018 following a storm of corruption allegations.
Former leader Najib Razak, who is appealing his criminal conviction over the state fund 1MDB graft scandal, led UMNO’s election campaign.
After a period of political turbulence that saw two governments collapse, UMNO clawed back to power at the national level three months ago, and reclaimed the premiership earlier this year.
The polls for the local legislature in the southern state of Malacca were a contest between UMNO, its partners in the national government, and an opposition alliance.
The victory for UMNO indicates it could do well in national elections.
It is also a big win for corruption-tainted Najib and could pave the way for UMNO to dominate national politics again, analysts said.
“UMNO won because they were much more disciplined. The biggest winner in this election obviously is Najib. He was the key person campaigning in Malacca,” James Chin, a political analyst from the University of Tasmania, told AFP.
Najib was sentenced to 12 years in jail over the 1MDB scandal last year but remains free on bail while he appeals, and has been seeking to mount a political comeback.
Traditionally, Malacca has been an UMNO stronghold, except when it lost leadership of the state in 2018.
Sweeping two-thirds of the seats, UMNO and its alliances won 21 of the 28 seats contested while its partner in the government secured two seats.
The current national government, headed by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, came to power in August after his predecessor quit when he lost the support of his allies.
Faced with a coronavirus outbreak, the government and opposition signed an agreement to ensure political stability, under which parliament will not be dissolved for national elections until July next year at the earliest.
Rival parties are also seeking support ahead of the polls.
The result in Malacca is a big blow for veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and his Pact of Hope alliance, which only won the remaining five seats.
That coalition won a historic victory at national polls in 2018, ejecting the UMNO-led coalition from power.
But once in power, the alliance was driven by bitter infighting, and eventually collapsed in 2020.