Malaysia's opposition celebrated Wednesday after big wins in by-elections that it said showed voters rejected prime minister Najib Razak who was sworn in last week.
The votes were the first test for Najib and his ambitious agenda to reform the ruling party UMNO -- which represents majority Muslim Malays -- and repair ties with the nation's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities.
Analysts said they provided a snapshot of the public mood one year after the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition was humbled in general elections that saw the opposition gain unprecedented ground.
"It is a referendum on the Barisan Nasional government, on its inability to carry out promises and reforms since the March 8 elections," opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told a press conference.
"Normally the trend is the moment a new prime minister comes... the sentiment lifts, but it didn't happen this time," he said. "It is a major setback not only to Najib but a major change in the thinking of Malaysians."
Anwar said the results of the polls showed that support for the opposition alliance had increased since the 2008 elections, when the opposition won five of Malaysia's 13 states and a third of seats in parliament.
The Barisan Nasional lost two of three by-elections held Tuesday, including a high-profile ballot in northern Perak state for a seat in the national parliament, which the opposition won in a landslide.
The opposition also won a hotly contested vote for a seat in the state parliament of northern Kedah.
In a consolation prize, the coalition won a seat in the state parliament in Sarawak on Borneo island, with a convincing majority that showed it remains the dominant political force in the under-developed region.
Najib's reform promises have been greeted with caution, as his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi failed to implement his own pledges to tackle corruption and repair race relations during his six years in power.
Analysts said the new leader must now quickly implement policy changes, which will illustrate that he is serious about reform, and win back voters before the next general elections due by 2013.
"What it means is that there is no honeymoon. Malaysians want their changes to happen now, and he cannot expect that rhetoric alone will carry the day," said Ibrahim Suffian from the Merdeka Centre polling firm.
Muhyiddin Yassin, who is expected to be appointed deputy premier when Najib names his cabinet on Thursday, played down the results of the votes and said it was too early to judge the new administration.
"This is not a referendum on the leadership. Maybe the feel-good factor of the leadership of Najib has yet to sink in with the voters," he said, according to state media.
But Koh Tsu Koon, president of the Chinese-based Gerakan party, which is a member of the ruling coalition, said the results should serve as a call to action for the Barisan Nasional, which has dominated politics for half a century.
"Admittedly, the results showed BN has yet to turn the tide in regaining support from the people, especially the non-Malay voters," he said in a statement.
"We should look at the results as a reminder to BN to effect reform more concretely. If so, it might well be a blessing in disguise for BN in the long run."
Source: AFP Asian Edition