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NEWS UPDATES 25 April 2010

By-election seen as test for Malaysian ruling coalition

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Voters went to the polls in Malaysia Sunday in a parliamentary by-election seen as a test for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition's reform programme, reported AFP.

The BN has lost seven out of nine by-elections since a disastrous 2008 national poll that dealt the coalition its worst results in half a century.

A win would give the government a much-needed boost and show backing for Prime Minister Najib Razak's reforms, including plans to dismantle race-based policies.

The opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance, led by former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, on trial for sodomy, wants to show that a bout of political infighting and defections have not damaged its credibility.

"I know I'm not just choosing someone to represent us but the poll outcome will have a national impact," first-time voter Nor Ain Fadilah Shawal Alludin, 26, told AFP after casting her vote in the Kuala Kubu Bharu district.

Najib, who came to power a year ago, last month unveiled plans for economic reforms including a review of an affirmative action policy for Muslim Malays who are in the majority in the multicultural nation.

Political observers say Najib is facing opposition from within his own party over the proposals, which threaten to further erode waning Malay support for the coalition.

The vote in Hulu Selangor in central Selangor state, which pundits say is too close to call, was triggered by the death of the opposition incumbent who won with a wafer-thin majority in 2008.

The ruling coalition is fielding newcomer P. Kamalanathan from its ethnic Indian party to take on high-profile former cabinet minister Zaid Ibrahim who is standing for the opposition.

Zaid, who founded the nation's biggest law firm before entering politics, quit the cabinet months after complaining he was blocked from implementing reforms. He joined Anwar's Keadilan party in June last year.

Election Commission officials are expecting a high turnout of 80 percent from among the 64,500 voters. Results are not expected until late Sunday.


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