1st LD Writhru: Malaysia's ruling coalition eyes rebound in by-election

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- Malaysia kicked start another by-election campaign on Saturday as the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition eyes a rebound from a previous electoral defeat.

The 6th by-election in Malaysia since the national polls last year will see a four-cornered fight over the state-assembly seat in Semenyih of the central Selangor state, the Malaysia's Election Commission said following the nomination on Saturday.

The by-election will feature a four-corner fight, with the main contest expected to be between candidates from the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) and the former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional(BN).

The by-election was called following the passing away of the previous assemblyman from PH in January.

The campaigning period started on Saturday and will end on March 1 with voters casting their ballots the following day.

The March 2 contest will determine if PH can retain the state seat amid claims that the support from the country's Malay majority for the ruling coalition is waning since it took federal power in the general elections in May last year.

PH lost the by-election for the parliamentary seat of Cameron Highlands last month, the first electoral defeat after the general election, after failing to wrest the seat traditionally held by BN.

The Semenyih by-election will also be a test of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), whose member is representing the ruling coalition. It will need to fight off the challenger from United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the BN's lynchpin party that had governed Malaysia for more than six decades until the general elections last year.

Nearly 70 percent of the electorate in the semi-rural constituency is made up by the Malays, making their support to winning the seat.

Underscoring the importance of the contest, PPBM president and incumbent Home minister Muhyiddin Yassin will head the party's election machinery, and several other ministers from the party have already visited Semenyih in recent days.

Professor Azmi Hassan from University of Technology Malaysia said the by-election was seen as a test for PPBM and UMNO, as both are under heavy pressure to deliver a victory to demonstrate their ability to sway Malay voters and for their political credibility.

He also said the acceptance of several Members of Parliament (MP) from UMNO into PPBM, a move that has drawn criticism from other PH component parties, had made a win critical for the party.

"BN is trying to show that its January by-election victory is not a fluke but the manifestation of how the Malays are dissatisfied with the PH government," he said.

"As for PPBM, it will demonstrate to their allies the decision to accept UMNO MP's is the correct decision. Hence so much attention is given to Semenyih and since the Malays make the bulk of the voters and this will demonstrate where the Malays stand," he said.

"A victory for PPBM will see the party come out stronger in its own coalition," Azmi said. Enditem

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