DAP wins "historic" by-election in Sibu

Photo shows downtrodden supporters of the losers, Malaysia's ruling National Front hold its flags as they shout slogan during a parliamentary by-election in Sibu, Sarawak, east Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's opposition on Sunday snatched a parliamentary seat in a ruling coalition stronghold with a surprise and "historic" by-election win.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) was expected to hold on to Sibu, in Sarawak state on Borneo island, but lost it by 398 votes to the Democratic Action Party (DAP), state media reported.

The DAP is a member of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's Pakatan Rakyat alliance.

"This is a historic win for the Pakatan alliance," veteran opposition politician and DAP leader Lim Kit Siang told AFP.

"This is because the BN's loss in Sibu shows that its strongholds on Borneo island are no longer safe," he added.

The Sibu victory means the opposition has now won eight out of 11 by-elections since the BN was bruised in 2008 national polls.

Analysts say the latest opposition victory casts doubt on the government's sway in Sarawak, where the large share of parliamentary seats means the state could be decisive at general elections expected by 2013.

"The loss has big implications as it has now slowed down Najib's momentum after winning in the two previous by-elections," political analyst James Chin told AFP.

Over the last few days Premier Najib Razak campaigned in the state to get the Chinese vote, promising 20 million ringgit for infrastructure projects and the upgrading of Chinese-language schools in a constituency where ethnic Chinese form 67 percent of the population.

Although the BN last month won a by-election in Selangor state, seen as an endorsement of Najib's reformist policies, the ruling coalition saw a dramatic drop in Chinese support.

"The decline in Chinese support in Hulu Selangor and Sibu are consistent with the 2008 general elections as the Chinese ground has yet to recover for the BN," Chin said.

The BN lost its two-thirds majority in parliament and control of five states in the 2008 election.

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