Never before has a Malaysian general election been so hotly contested or narrowly won. The National Front coalition headed by Prime Minister Najib Razak has maintained the grip on power it has held since independence 56 years ago, although for the first time has lost the popular vote. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim refuses to admit defeat, claiming the vote was rigged. Crying foul is of no use in a system where the state and governing party are so fused; the nation is best served by all politicians working for the reforms the electorate has so loudly called for.
For Najib, his United Malays National Organisation party and its coalition partners, that means putting aside race and the decades-old privileges unfairly given to the 67 per cent of the population that is ethnic Malay. The resentment fuelled among minority Chinese and Indians by policies granting favouritism on education, land ownership, loans and the like was felt in the results; there was a significant shift to the opposition. The approach has also created corruption and racism that has prevented Malaysia from modernising and moving forward. Urban and young voters and a sizeable proportion of Malays also turned their backs on the National Front.
Anwar - a former deputy prime minister who fell out of favour and survived repeated smear campaigns to make overthrowing the system his calling - has once more been defeated. Fighters do not readily give up and he maintains the People's Alliance coalition he heads was victorious. He is in all likelihood right that there has been some electoral wrongdoing, just as voting boundaries have been drawn to favour governing parties and the media has given brazenly unfair treatment to the opposition. But the National Front has nonetheless taken 133 of parliament's 222 seats, giving it an unassailable lead.
Voting fraud has to be rooted out, but that should not stall the work of government. Malaysians have called for change as never before. The reforms they seek have to be speedily implemented so that Malaysia is as inclusive as possible.