The Malaysian ruling coalition’s takeover of a northern state has been given the thumbs-down by voters, according to a poll released Thursday ahead of two critical by-elections.

The by-elections, one for a seat in national parliament and the other for the state assembly in Kedah, are being seen as a referendum on the Barisan Nasional coalition’s conduct in Perak state.

A new Barisan Nasional leadership was sworn into power there this week, despite objections from the Pakatan Rakyat opposition alliance, which lost its narrow majority when it was hit with four defections.

The Merdeka Centre research firm said that 66 percent of Perak residents it surveyed disapproved of using defectors to form a new government.

Seventy-four percent of the 507 respondents said the assembly in Perak should have been dissolved and the people allowed to select a new government through a vote.

In a rare display of displeasure towards the state’s highly respected sultan, who ordered the Pakatan government to quit, 62 percent said his handling of the case “does not reflect the will of the people of Perak”.

The findings came as the government prepares for a bruising contest over the national parliamentary seat in Perak, and the seat in the state assembly in far-northern Kedah state, which have both become vacant.

The opposition has said the votes will be a test of the Barisan Nasional’s popularity and its conduct in Perak, where public protests greeted the installation of the new government.

Merdeka Centre pollster Ibrahim Suffian said however it was too early to gauge sentiment for the upcoming votes, which the Election Commission will fix dates for on Friday.

“Kedah is far away so we are not sure whether the sentiment is the same. Bukit Gantang (the Perak electorate) is in the same state but we won’t know how far-reaching its impact until we conduct a separate survey,” he told AFP.

Barisan Nasional has been humiliated by the loss of two by-elections since putting in a dismal performance in general elections last March, and will be looking to prove it can claw back public support.

The votes are also a chance for the opposition alliance to re-assert itself after the loss of Perak, which triggered calls for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to quit. AFP