Scandal-hit Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak secured a big win for his ruling coalition in elections in the country's biggest state, boosting his tenure in spite of several corruption allegations.
More than 1.1 million people in Sarawak state on Borneo Island elected 82 lawmakers in the state assembly. The Election Commission said Najib's National Front coalition secured 72 out of 82 assembly seats in Sarawak state which is equivalent to 88 percent of the seats.
Previously the party had got 77 percent of the state seats, so there is a clear improvement in the number of seats won.
This is the first election since Najib faced accusations of corruption and mismanagement of over hundreds of millions of dollars related to the state investmet fund.
Although he is under pressure to resign, Najib has denied the money came from state investment fund 1MDB. The government also 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 is still dealing with massive debts in 1MDB, a company he launched in 2009. It is still 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," James Chin, the director of the Asia Institute at Australia's University of Tasmania, said, according to Reuters.
Sarawak and Sabah states on Borneo make up for a quarter of the 222 seats held by the coalition in the federal parliament.
In the last two general elections, the Support for the National Front had eroded. In 2013, it lost the popular vote for the first time and could have lost power if not for the Borneo states.
Najib had campaigned strongly in Sarawak and promised billions in development funding. He visited the state more than 50 times since he took power in 2009. He had recently held a Cabinet meeting there during the campaigning period.