Abd Allah’s multi-ethnic Barisan Nasional coalition won one of the biggest election victories in Malaysian history, surprising those who had dismissed the softly spoken scholar as a faceless time-server in the shadow of his predecessor Mahathir Muhammad.
Abd Allah took over from the veteran leader only in October, but the extent of his victory gives him a powerful mandate to pursue his own vision of economic development and intensify a crackdown on corruption.
Whereas Mahathir’s abrasive style and the jailing and humiliation of his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, drove many Malays into the arms of the opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS), Abd Allah’s courteous manner and moral standing won them back, leaving PAS on the edge of the political wilderness.
His model of a tolerant Islam turned out to be a vote winner in the northern Malay heartland that PAS had sought to turn into the main battleground of the election.
Abd Allah extended Barisan’s grip on the federal parliament to about 90%, easily surpassing the two-thirds majority needed to pass laws and rebuilding support for his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) that dominates Barisan.
He also saw off an attempt by PAS to capture two northern state assemblies and stunned the country by winning back control of Terengganu state, which swung to PAS in 1999.
After several recounts, PAS retained its northeastern stronghold of Kelantan, although with a sharply reduced majority.
As the recounts proceeded, about 100 PAS supporters gathered outside party headquarters in the state capital of Kota Baharu, chanting “God is Greatest”.
Oposition PAS party retained its
PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan chief minister Nik Aziz Nik Mat arrived looking unruffled.
“The moon has fallen but we can rise again,” the 74-year-old preacher said in a sermon to supporters, alluding to the PAS emblem of a white moon on a green flag.
But there was no disguising the extent of the PAS defeat.
“We have yet to figure out what went wrong, but I have to admit there was an element of complacency on our part,” one top PAS official told Reuters.
Abd Allah’s big win showed how far PAS had squandered the support it had built up over the years, said Kalim Allah Hassan, editor-in-chief of the government-owned New Straits Times.
“It was so easy,” he said in a signed commentary. “They alienated the non-Muslims; they alienated business; they alienated foreign investors; and without even realising it, they alienated their own constituency, Muslims.”
Abd Allah promised changes in the government line-up.
“I’m confident to say there will be a few young faces in my cabinet,” he said. The new cabinet will meet on 31 March.
The tide in favour of Abd Allah all but extinguished the Keadilan party that emerged from the reform movement of Anwar, who is still in jail on sodomy and abuse of power convictions. Anwar denies all charges, saying he was framed.
The party held only one seat, that of Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, after a recount.
With all but one of the federal parliament’s 219 seats counted, Barisan Nasional had 197 seats, PAS had seven, Keadilan had one, the secular opposition DAP had 12 and one seat went to an independent. In the previous 193-seat parliament, Barisan Nasional had 152 seats.