Umno swept to victory with bigger margins in two closely watched polls yesterday, casting aside controversies rocking the ruling party and taking advantage of a deep split in the opposition.
Umno's Datin Mastura Mohd Yazid, 55, won the parliamentary district of Kuala Kangsar in Perak by a 6,969-vote margin.
In Sungai Besar constituency in Selangor, Umno assemblyman Budiman Mohd Zohdi, 44, won with a 9,191-vote margin.
Ms Mastura, the widow of incumbent Wan Mohammad Khair-il Anuar Wan Ahmad, polled 12,653 votes. The other contenders were from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) who received 5,684 votes and newbie Parti Amanah Negara with 4,883 votes.
The fourth candidate was an independent who lost his deposit after taking just 54 votes.
The party, and not the candidate, was the dominant factor. For the opposition, they are in the same state government but are at odds in an election.
PROFESSOR ISMAIL SUALMAN, Universiti Teknologi Mara political analyst.
In Sungai Besar, Mr Budiman garnered 16,800 votes, beating the PAS contender's 6,902 votes and Amanah's 7,609.
Umno leads the 13-party Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that rules Malaysia.
The victory for Umno in the two districts, which roughly reflect Malaysia's ethnic mix, gave a fillip to Prime Minister Najib Razak's BN coalition, and comes despite growing disquiet over his leadership.
For more than a year, the Premier has fended off calls for him to resign over some US$700 million (S$944 million) found in his personal accounts in 2013, with allegations the money is linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.
Even the campaigning for Amanah by his mentor-turned-nemesis, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, failed to attract enough votes for the opposition.
BN's winning margins were larger than the narrow 1 and 4 per cent in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar respectively that were notched in the 2013 General Election.
Ms Mastura did not campaign, citing a four-month mourning period for her husband. Her victory showed the dominance of a united BN coalition, in the face of a fractious opposition that created multi-pronged battles in both votes.
Said Universiti Teknologi Mara political analyst Ismail Sualman: "The party, and not the candidate, was the dominant factor. For the opposition, they are in the same state government but are at odds in an election."
He was referring to how the Parti Keadilan Rakyat(PKR)-led Selangor administration is also made up of PAS assemblymen, although the Islamic party had left the wider opposition alliance a year ago.
Amanah, made up of former PAS leaders who left the Islamic party last year, now forms the Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact with PKR and the Democratic Action Party.
There is also an indication that some Chinese voters, who abandoned BN in the last two general elections, have trickled back, BN leaders say. PH's failure to overcome PAS shows that the latter is still a force to be reckoned with in Malay-majority seats.
PAS had also pushed hard for the introduction of controversial Islamic criminal laws, called hudud, ahead of the two by-elections, and will use the Kuala Kangsar result - where two-thirds of voters are Muslim - as encouragement to press ahead with its theocratic agenda.