Mahathir Gets Reprieve in By-Election After Year of Discontent

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ruling coalition retained a parliamentary seat in a by-election in Borneo, providing him a reprieve amid sliding approval ratings.

Pakatan Harapan’s candidate won the Sandakan seat in the state of Sabah by 11,521 votes, according to the Election Commission. The special poll was called after the incumbent, father of Saturday’s victor Vivian Wong, died in March. She was up against a former parliamentarian and three independent candidates.

Mahathir Gets Reprieve in By-Election After Year of Discontent

The win is a welcomed respite for Mahathir one year into his rule, after his coalition lost the last three by-elections. Approval for Mahathir fell to 46% in March from 71% in August, while support for the coalition government plunged to 39% from 79%, according to a survey by the Merdeka Center.

Mahathir said he was aware many Malaysians were unhappy as they accused the government of failing to fulfill campaign promises made ahead of the May 2018 general election. The delay in meeting the pledges were due to the “damages” that the previous administration left behind, he said on the first anniversary of his coalition’s win.

“Indeed there are shortcomings and mistakes and the government will continue to work on improving,” he said in a national address on Thursday.

The prime minister spared no expense in the two-week campaign period ahead of the vote in Sandakan, a stronghold of the Democratic Action Party and home to more than 40,000 voters. The coalition’s heavyweights flew in from peninsular Malaysia, across the South China Sea. So did former premier Najib Razak, who used his recent increase in popularity to rally support for Wong’s biggest rival.

Even so, voter turnout was lower than in the general election last year, falling to 54.4% from more than 70%.

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