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 19 Apr 2009

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By-elections irk Malaysian PM

Malaysia's prime minister slammed the opposition Saturday after one of its lawmakers resigned, triggering another by-election that Najib Razak said was costly as the country grapples with the global economic slump, reporte the Associated Press.

An opposition lawmaker in the northern resort state of Penang quit following unsubstantiated allegations of corruption. A date for the ballot to fill the seat will be decided soon.

It will be the sixth by-election since March 2008 national polls. Najib's National Front coalition is expected to come under pressure after the opposition won four of the previous five by-elections.

Najib was quoted as saying in Saturday's The Star daily that by-elections should only be held after an elected representative died, not resigned. He said such polls were draining resources that should have been used to strengthen the economy.

Two of the five previous polls were called to fill vacancies caused by resignations of opposition lawmakers, while the rest were due to death of the incumbents.

The newspaper said the five by-elections have cost taxpayers 33.4 million ringgit ($9.3 million), the bulk of which was spent on deploying thousands of police to the areas to ensure security.

"Resignations are political decisions which can also be regarded as a political ploy," Najib said in the report.

"By resigning, an elected representative has reneged on his commitment to serve. By right, the focus should be on strengthening the country's economy and protecting the people's interest. We must be moving forward for the nation's future."

An aide to Najib confirmed his comments but did not give details. The National Front governs with less than a two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in 40 years.

In the last by-elections, the opposition won two of three polls held simultaneously on April 7, dealing a blow to Najib shortly after he took power with pledges to carry out wide-ranging government and social reforms.

The results did not change the balance of power at the federal or state level but served as a referendum on Najib's popularity. The National Front downplayed the loss, saying Najib has yet to make his mark.

Election watch groups said by-elections were part of a democratic structure but urged the government to scale down the cost.

National Institute for Electoral Integrity executive director Amin Iskandar said there was no need to deploy so many police during by-elections.

"I think it is unnecessary to have a policeman at every traffic light. We are not at war like Afghanistan," he added.




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