KUALA TERENGGANU, Malaysia (AFP) — Campaigning kicked off Tuesday in a critical by-election seen as a test of the Malaysian government's popularity since disastrous losses in national polls last year.
"We must ensure we win this election. We must regain our political strength and influence," said Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is leading the campaign for the January 17 vote in northeastern Terengganu state. The government is hoping to show it has clawed back support with promises of reform and leadership changes after losing five states and a third of parliamentary seats in the March 2008 general elections.
For the opposition alliance, it is a chance to show its support is holding up and that it is working effectively, despite government claims that the partnership of three very different parties is already cracking up. The by-election is the first major test for Najib, who is due to take over the top job next March. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was forced to agree to step aside in the fallout from the national elections.