Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia`s ruling party retained a state seat on Wednesday in the first by-election since May`s controversial General Election, a win experts said demonstrates its continuing rural appeal.
The Kuala Besut by-election, in eastern Terengganu state, saw Prime Minister Najib Razak`s ruling Barisan Nasional fend off a challenge from the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) with a comfortable majority.
It was a key political battleground for Barisan and PAS to claim a seat where 98 percent of the voters are ethnic Malays consisting mainly of paddy planters, fishermen and civil servants whose rights they both claim to champion.
Barisan`s candidate, 37-year-old civil engineer Tengku Zaihan Che Ku Abdul Rahman, beat PAS candidate Azlan Yusof, a 48-year-old businessman, by 2,592 votes.
With the victory, Barisan retains a narrow control of the 32-member State Assembly with 17 seats compared to 15 by PAS.
The win shows Barisan continues to enjoy strong influence in its tradition power bastion, the rural Malay heartlands, said Ong Kian Ming, an MP and political strategist for the opposition Democratic Action Party.
"Barisan`s by-election victory with a bigger majority was expected. They had promised lots of development," he told a news agency.
Ong added that the result shows the Barisan coalition continues to hold "strong appeal" among rural voters on the back of its "monetary and infrastructure promises".
Najib was sworn in for a second term in May after elections which the opposition branded as fraudulent with allegations of a tainted electoral roll. The electoral commission has repeatedly denied these claims.
The by-election had been closely watched as a PAS victory would have resulted in the first hung State Assembly in the country`s history.
PAS, which once ruled the predominantly Muslim state of Terengganu, is part of a three-party Pakatan Rakyat alliance led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The by-election was called after the death of Barisan`s Abdul Rahman due to lung cancer. He had won the seat in May with 2,434 votes.
During the recent 12-day campaign period, the opposition alleged that Barisan indulged in vote-buying through promises of infrastructure projects while others claimed PAS gave free fuel to motorcyclists in a bid to win favour.