KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Scandal-ridden Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak secured a major victory for his ruling coalition in elections Saturday in the country's biggest state, boosting his rule despite corruption allegations.
The Election Commission said late Saturday that Najib's National Front coalition had secured 72 out of 82 assembly seats in Sarawak state on Borneo island, or 88 percent of the seats. This was up from 77 percent of the state seats it held previously.
The election was the first since Najib faced accusations of corruption and mismanagement over allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars had been channeled into his accounts from an indebted state fund.
Under pressure to resign, Najib has denied the money came from state investment fund 1MDB. The government cleared him in January, saying the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and that Najib had returned most of it. The explanation was met with widespread skepticism.
Najib still grapples with massive debts in 1MDB, which he started in 2009 and which is being investigated in several countries for embezzlement. A Malaysian parliamentary inquiry recently found massive unexplained payments and called for a police investigation of the fund's former head.
"The big victory is expected as local issues predominate in Sarawak. But Najib will use it for political capital and momentum in the lead up to 2018 general elections," said James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at Australia's University of Tasmania.
Sarawak and Sabah states on jungle-clad Borneo make up for a quarter of the 222 seats held by the coalition in the federal parliament.
Support for the National Front, which has been in power in Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, has eroded in the last two general elections. In 2013, it lost the popular vote for the first time and could have lost power if not for the Borneo states.
Najib has campaigned strongly in Sarawak, promising billions in development funding and visiting the state more than 50 times since he took power in 2009. He recently held a Cabinet meeting there during the campaigning period.