A victory in Sabah is likely to boost the position of Prime Minister as he faces the leadership challenge from Anwar Ibrahim.
The ruling coalition of Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin won major state elections, in a vote that was widely seen as a referendum on his seven-month administration.
A victory in Sabah, in Borneo state, is likely to bolster Muhyiddin as he faces a leadership challenge from opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who this week said he had the parliamentary majority needed to oust the prime minister.
The Perikatan Nacional coalition led by Mohiuddin and his allies won 38 of the 73 seats in Saturday’s elections, and narrowly controlled the country previously controlled by the opposition.
Mohiuddin said earlier that the victory in Sabah could pave the way for early national elections aimed at ending the uncertainty about the stability of his ruling coalition, which has a two-seat majority in parliament.
Analysts have warned that the defeat of Muhyiddin in the eastern state of Sabah could mean the end of his divided coalition government.
Muhyiddin came to power in March after forming an alliance with opposition parties following the sudden resignation of his predecessor Mahathir Mohamad.
Muhyiddin’s opponents accused him of stealing power by changing alliances instead of ballot boxes, and his allies had been pressing him for months to call early general elections to obtain a strong mandate.
While the result does not directly affect the balance of power at the national level, it was a major test of Muhyiddin’s popularity.
If he did poorly, the coalition partners might have withdrawn their support from his government and imposed a fast national ballot.
But Bridget Welsh, a Malaysian expert at the University of Nottingham, warned that Muhyiddin’s troubles are far from over.
“He passed the first major election test, but hardly,” she told AFP. “He remains a man in the lost time.”
Earlier this week, opposition leader Anwar claimed he had the support of a majority of parliament members, and said Muhyiddin’s coalition had collapsed.
But he refused to reveal the number of lawmakers in support of him, while the king, who appointed the country’s prime minister, postponed a date to see him due to ill health.
With victory in Sabah, Muhyiddin’s coalition can now confidently lead a federal coalition in a general election, Adeeb Zalkabli, director of political risk consulting firm BowerGroupAsia, told Reuters news agency.
“The victory will be used to reject any challenge to the federal leadership.”
The power struggle comes as the Malaysian economy suffers from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mohieldin announced a stimulus package worth 305 billion ringgit ($ 73.16 billion), including additional measures announced just three days before the morning polls.