Voting in Malaysian by-election testing political mood

Voting in Malaysian by-election testing political mood Kuala Lumpur: Voting began on Sunday in a critical by-election in a flood-hit bastion of Malaysian ruling coalition, a poll which will test the popularity of Prime Minister Najib Razak as speculation about a looming snap general election grows.

The by-election was held in the semi-rural Tenang constituency in southern Johor state after the death of a state assemblyman from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main party in Razak's ruling coalition.

Meanwhile, continuous rain and rising floodwaters forced 846 people from several villages in Tenang to be evacuated to relief centres.

Heavy duty vehicles ferried voters through submerged access roads to the polling centres in those areas.

Police are also prepared to deploy boats to ferry voters should the situation worsen. All polling centres remained open. Two days of non-stop rain in Johor Baru and Kota Tinggi has caused floods in several locations with some aeas witnessing the rise of water levels to knee high.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the rain may affect the overall voter turnout but declined to say if the expected 80 per cent turnout might be reduced.

The by-election pits the Barisan Nasional's Mohamad Azahar Ibrahim, 39, against Normala Sudirman, whose popularity is on the rise within the conservative Islamic party (PAS), a member of the opposition alliance.

Though the poll outcome will not alter power in the state held by Barisan Nasional, a convincing victory could prompt Razak to call for snap polls later this year.

During pre-poll campaigning the opposition candidate Normala hit news headlines after declining to shake hands with men, triggering debate across Malaysia's racial and religious divide.

Malaysia's ethnic mix is composed of Chinese and Indian minorities, who follow Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism among other religions, while the majority are Muslim Malays.