Campaigning began on Saturday for a Malaysian by-election in a government stronghold state whose outcome could boost Prime Minister Najib Razak's confidence to call snap national polls as early as next year.
The race for the mainly urban and ethnic Chinese parliament seat of Sibu in the timber and resource rich Borneo state of Sarawak pits a party in Najib's National Front coalition against the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP).
The May 16 vote will not alter the balance of power but Najib's ability to reverse the coalition's record losses in the last general election in 2008 will require strong support in Sarawak, which provides it with 30 of its 137 seats in parliament.
An opposition win in Sibu would help the People's Alliance grouping, of which the DAP is a member, remain on track as a contender to wrest federal power after a series of recent setbacks including the resignation of four of its MPs.
"Sibu will be an indicator of the voting trend in the upcoming Sarawak state election. If the opposition wins the seat by a big margin it will be a big worry for Najib going ahead," said James Chin, a politics professor at Monash University in Kuala Lumpur.
Najib took office in April last year pledging economic and political reforms to woo lagging investment and turn back his ailing coalition from the 2008 polls losses.
The National Front, which has ruled the Southeast Asian country uninterrupted for 52 years since Independence from Britain in 1957, lost control in five of Malaysia's 13 states and its once iron clad two-thirds control of parliament.
Political tensions in Malaysia are also being fueled by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's ongoing trial for sodomy that resumes next week and which he says is a political conspiracy.
ReutersLast Mod: 08 Mayıs 2010, 18:06