KUALA LUMPUR // The Malaysian prime minister may have to step down by the end of the year, ruling party sources said yesterday, after his coalition extended its 56-year rule but recorded its worst election performance.
Najib Razak, 59, had staked his political future on strengthening the ruling coalition's parliamentary majority in Sunday's general election on the back of a robust economy, reforms to roll back race-based policies and a Dh9.54 billion deluge of social handouts to poor families.
But he was left vulnerable to party dissidents after his Barisan Nasional coalition won only 133 seats in the 222-member parliament, seven short of its tally in 2008 and well below the two-thirds majority it was aiming for.
It also lost the popular vote, underlining opposition complaints that the electoral system is stacked against it.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's People's Alliance won 89 seats, up seven from 2008 but still incapable of unseating one of the world's longest-serving governments.
Mr Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, said yesterday that he would not accept the result because it was marred by "unprecedented" electoral fraud. He has called for a rally in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.
Undermined by the result, Mr Najib faces a difficult task to persuade his dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to press ahead with economic reforms and phase out policies favouring majority ethnic Malays over other races.
"We could see Najib step down by the end of this year," said a senior official in UMNO, which leads the coalition.
"He may put up a fight, we don't know, but he has definitely performed worse. He does not have so much bargaining power."
Mr Najib, who polls show is more popular than his party, could face a leadership challenge as early as October or November, when UMNO members hold a general assembly and elect the party leader.
Barisan Nasional also failed to win back the crucial industrial state of Selangor, which Mr Najib had vowed to achieve.
"Najib is now leading a coalition that lost the popular vote, a coalition that will really struggle to prove its legitimacy," said Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs in Kuala Lumpur.
"My feeling is it's not going to be very easy for him."
Mr Anwar, 65, had accused the coalition of flying up to 40,000 "dubious" voters, including foreigners, across the country to vote in close races. The government says it was merely helping voters get to hometowns to vote.
"My heart is with every Malaysian who does not accept the results," Anwar said.