Malaysia’s Leader to Face Popularity Test in State Election

Malaysia’s government is set to face its biggest popularity test on Sept. 26, as the country holds its first state-level polls since Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin rose to power in late February.

More than a million Malaysians in the state of Sabah are registered to vote for either Muhyiddin’s Perikatan Nasional government or the loose federal opposition alliance known as “Pakatan Plus.” The Election Commission expects a 70% turnout for the election, which is estimated to cost about 186 million ringgit ($44.38 million), Deputy Chief Commissioner Azmi Sharom said in a press conference Monday.

“This would be the first instance whereby a state election is called for to determine in essence the popularity of Perikatan versus Pakatan Plus,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. The election became necessary after former Chief Minister Shafie Apdal, a member of Pakatan Plus,dissolved the Sabah state assembly in July when lawmakers defected.

The prime minister controls a razor-thin majority in Malaysia’s parliament after he and his allies defected to form a new government in late February. While the polls in Sabah won’t directly affect parliament’s composition, Oh said it would go “a long way to determining the popularity of Perikatan versus Pakatan Plus” among voters, amid growing calls from politicians for a nationwide snap election to end the country’s political instability.

Sabah was one of four states that remained in Pakatan Harapan’s fold after its government lost power at the federal level. A leader from the United Malays National Organization — whose corruption charges were withdrawn after Muhyiddin became prime minister — filed a judicial review of the state assembly’s dissolution, which could hinder the election.

“So far, the election commission hasn’t received any instruction from the court, so we will continue with our preparations for this election,” said Azmi.

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