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What Just Happened in Malaysia?

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Yet the optimism and energy of Election Day were a clear clue about the monumental result to come. At the polling station in the Lembah Pantai constituency, in Kuala Lumpur, for example, the camaraderie was palpable. Volunteers handed out free food and water; strangers helped the old and weak to find seats in the shade during the long wait. Someone offered my mother a wheelchair (who politely declined). People lining up to cast their ballot joked about the heat, and about next seeing one another again in five years.

Lembah Pantai was one of the constituencies targeted by the government as a possible swing seat. Just weeks before Election Day, its boundary was redrawn by the election commission to include huge police barracks, automatically including a sizable electoral base with a strong allegiance to the government. Fahmi Fadzil, the P.H. candidate, was a young first-timer up against an experienced B.N. campaigner. In the end, the result wasn’t even close: in winning the seat, Mr. Fadzil increased his predecessor’s majority threefold.

Across the board, the electorate delivered unequivocal messages. The economically powerful states of the Klang Valley — the Federal Territory that consists of Kuala Lumpur and its environs, together with Selangor — were decisively held by P.H., as was Penang, in the north. In Damansara, Selangor state — another constituency expanded by the election commission — the incumbent Tony Pua, a P.H. stalwart, reportedly won more than 80 percent of votes. Elsewhere, too, shock results began to filter in through the night, as state after state fell into opposition control. At about 3 a.m., the election commission finally confirmed what many of us had been hearing on social media: The influential southern state of Johor, one of the government’s traditional strongholds, had been won by P.H.

Earlier today, while Mr. Najib was not yet conceding exactly, the sultan of Johor, the state’s figurehead, was calling for the prompt formation of the new national government, saying, “we must accept the voice of the people.” P.H. has wrested a majority of seats in the State Assembly from B.N., as well as a majority of Johor’s seats in the national Parliament. Johor is the birthplace of the United Malays National Party (UMNO), the dominant party in B.N. and of Malaysian politics.

Not only has the Malaysian electorate just overturned a government that has been in place for six decades, it has done so peacefully and democratically despite


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