KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's ruling coalition secured a landslide victory in the Borneo state of Sarawak on Saturday after a campaign led by the prime minister, who is facing a financial scandal involving a state-owned fund.
The Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance expanded its majority to 72 out of the 82-seat state legislative assembly, a result that Prime Minister Najib Razak is likely to use as an endorsement of his tumultuous leadership.
But the coalition's win is largely credited to the popularity of Sarawak's Chief Minister Adenan Satem, who took over the reins in 2014.
Sarawakians have rallied behind Adenan, who is seen as a Najib's ally, after the state leader brokered greater autonomy for the resource-rich state and dealt with long standing issues such as recognition of native land rights.
"As BN chairman, I thank the voters for their trust," Najib said in a statement after the poll results.
His party would not squander the mandate of the people, he said.
Najib's critics have said that the Sarawak polls are not a measure of the support for Najib or the ruling party as they are fought on local issues.
Najib has for months faced calls for him to step down after news broke that $681 million were deposited into his bank account before the 2013 national election, and over his handling of a multi-billion dollar scandal linked to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing and consolidated power by sacking dissenters within his party, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO), and using a controversial sedition law to clamp down on other critics.
The strong showing by the BN coalition was also helped by a breakdown in the opposition alliance, the Pakatan Harapan.
The ethnic Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) - which had a sizeable haul of 12 seats in the last state polls in2011 - was left with just seven seats this time around, while the People's Justice Party (PKR), the party of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, retained three seats.
Saturday's win, however, comes with its fair share of controversy as federal opposition leaders cried foul over the state government's decision to bar entry to most of them over the two-week campaign period ahead of the polls. Immigration remains a sovereign right of the state.
The opposition also accused Najib and his ruling BN of abusing government powers during the election campaign by promising some 3.5 billion ringgit in projects and investments for the state.