Mahathir’s Ruling Coalition Loses Seat in Malaysian By-Election

(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia’s ruling coalition failed to retain its first state seat since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad led the alliance to power in a historic election last May.

The candidate from Pakatan Harapan lost by 1,914 votes in a by-election in Semenyih, a state constituency it captured just last year, according to the Election Commission. Zakaria Hanafi from Barisan Nasional, the alliance that ruled Malaysia from independence until it was defeated in 2018, secured the seat in a four-way contest.

The loss may indicate euphoria is fading among Malaysians as the 10-month-old government struggles to fulfill some campaign promises. Mahathir’s administration is in danger of losing popularity in coming months after dialing back on a pledge to reduce living costs amid fiscal consolidation, Fitch Solutions wrote in a note in February.

A "slow move" toward improving racial equality and repeated public displays of disunity among leaders may also damp support -- a trend that would escalate infighting between the four parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition, Fitch Solutions said.

The prime minister said last month Malaysians are losing patience and starting to criticize the government, which is unable to implement quick reforms because of the legacy it inherited. Former premier Najib Razak campaigned for Zakaria in Semenyih and is increasingly taking to social media to poke fun at the government as he attempts to shore up support.

The Semenyih seat -- a 54,503-voter constituency just half an hour’s drive from the capital Kuala Lumpur -- fell vacant after the representative, a member of Mahathir’s party, died in January.

The Pakatan Harapan defeat comes even after the government unveiled a slew of promises during the Semenyih campaign period. The administration is in talks to replace the current highway toll system to fulfill last year’s election promise, while Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng lowered the cap on petrol prices.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.