Malaysia faces unprecedented run of by-elections

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 21, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysia is facing its 15th by-election in three years, in an unprecedented flurry of special votes that have preoccupied politicians and the media seeking to divine the national mood.

"Endless Polls?" the Star daily said in a front-page headline Friday after the death of a state assemblyman triggered preparations for yet another poll, with one already scheduled for January 30.

Two more special votes are looming in other state constituencies that have been declared vacant, including one where the representative is accused of failing to attend assembly sessions for six months.

"We are only halfway through the term and I can safely say it is the highest number of by-elections," former Election Commission chairman Abdul Rashid Rahman told the Star.

The votes do not change the balance of power but have captivated the nation because they serve as bellwethers for the political climate after 2008 national elections that saw the opposition gain unprecedented ground.

Since then the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled for half a century, has tried to claw back support but factors including a lack of opinion polling has made it difficult to determine its success.

The opposition initially had a dream run that left it victorious in eight of the first 11 by-elections held, results seen as a sign it had cemented its support despite troubles including vicious in-fighting.

However, the government then won two by-elections last November in a major boost for its morale.

With snap elections tipped for this year, well ahead of a 2013 deadline, the next votes will likely continue to attract the intense campaigning by top politicians, and blanket coverage by the media, seen in past polls.

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