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Malaysian Ruling Alliance Posts Strong Victory in Parliamentary Elections - 2004-03-21

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's secular government has won a strong vote of confidence in national elections and rolled back gains made previously by opposition parties. According to preliminary results, the prime minister's 14 party alliance has won the two-thirds majority needed in parliament to pass laws unchallenged. And his National Front alliance has won back two northern states that had been controlled by the opposition Islamic Party.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi appeared before cheering supporters shortly after midnight Monday morning to proclaim victory and congratulate the alliance led by his United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

The National Front alliance significantly reduced the opposition's presence in the federal parliament and it recovered control of the northeastern states of Kelantan and Terengganu from the opposition Islamic Party.

The victory was seen as a vote of public confidence for Mr. Abdullah, who took over as prime minister four months ago after the retirement of Mahathir Muhamad.

Many voters said they liked Mr. Abdullah's campaign against official corruption. And voters in the Muslim Malay north, which had been a stronghold of the Islamic Party, were impressed by his credentials as an Islamic scholar and his pledge to promote development in rural areas.

Sunday's snap election was announced less than three weeks ago and the campaign period lasted only one week. Nevertheless, voter turnout was high.

In the working-class district of Lembah Pantai south of the capital, a maintenance technician in his late forties, Kong Mee Chuan, said Mr. Abdullah inspired him to vote for the first time ever. "This Abdullah Badawi, he's very clean. He's very efficient. And I think he's a very capable man," he said.

In the middle-class district of Sentul, however, taxi driver Lim Ahta said he did not like the Internal Security Act, a law dating back to the colonial era that allows virtually unlimited detention without trial. Mr. Lim said the law is bad because it allows authorities to detain people without due legal process.

A commodity exporter named Ivan Ting warned, however, against extremism, in a country where ethnic Malay Muslims make up the majority of the population but where more than one-fourth of the population is non-Muslim, Chinese and Indians. "I feel that for the country to progress, extremism has to be out. I felt that we need to practice a very moderate kind of thinking," he said.

These were Malaysia's 11th national elections since independence in 1957.