Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is facing calls for his resignation, after his ruling coalition lost critical ground to opposition parties in general elections. The coalition, in power for five decades, suffered the biggest election setback in its history Saturday. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Kuala Lumpur.
It was a stunning setback for the multi-racial Barisan Nasional or National Front coalition of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. After winning a more than 90 percent majority of parliamentary seats in the last elections four years ago, it now has only a simple majority in parliament - short of the two-thirds needed to make constitutional changes. The coalition also lost several states to the opposition.
Critics accuse Mr. Badawi's government of mishandling racial tensions in this country of 25 million people. One-third of the population is made up of ethnic minorities, mainly Chinese and Indian.
But analysts note that much of the loss of support happened among the majority Malay Muslims who voiced their anger at the coalition, accusing it of complacency and corruption.
Mr. Badawi says he does not plan to resign. Leading the calls for him to go is the man who hand-picked him, long-ruling former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who accused Mr. Badawi of destroying the governing coalition.
"I think he needs to consider stepping down," said Mahathir.
The former leader told reporters he was sorry that he had chosen Mr. Badawi as his successor.
He indicated he does not blame people for voting against the Barisan Nasional, known as the BN.
"This is more my strong feelings against BN than strong feelings for the opposition. They had no choice. If you do not vote BN, who do you vote for? There are only two candidates," he added. "So you vote for the opposition, or you do not vote at all. Either way, the BN is going to lose a lot of support."
Analysts say the ruling coalition will have to work hard to win back the support it lost - especially among disillusioned non-Malays whose protests could lead to instability. James Chin, a politics professor at Monash University's Kuala Lumpur campus says the coalition will look for pragmatic ways to rebuild support, or face extinction.
"This is a strong wake-up call for the Barisan Nasional ruling coalition to do something about the grievances of the non-Malay community. I believe that the Barisan Nasional government has heard this message loud and clear, and that they will do something about it because they need to win the next election," said Chin.
Many in the now-stronger opposition are rallying for an end to Malaysia's system of race-based politics and set-asides that benefit Muslim Malays. The governing coalition, in power since independence in 1957, is made up of race-specific parties that are supposed to represent each of the major ethnic groups.
Malaysia has long prided itself as a model for ethnic harmony. That image was tarnished in recent months when police used teargas and water cannon to suppress demonstrations by thousands of ethnic Indians who were protesting what they say is discrimination by the majority Muslim Malays.