Malaysia's ruling coalition retained its 56-year grip on power in hard-fought elections and called for "reconciliation" Monday, as the opposition alleged widespread fraud and refused to concede defeat.
The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition had faced an unprecedented challenge from an energised opposition, but ceded just two seats in the Sunday ballot to finish with 133 and a firm majority in the 222-member parliament.
However Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is expected Monday to seek the Malaysian king's blessing to form a new government, became the first leader to win with a minority of the popular vote.
Najib, 59, called for a spirit of reconciliation but rejected any challenge to the outcome of the polls, marked by record voter turnout and a fierce campaign that laid bare a deep polarisation in the multi-racial country.
"This is the decision of the people," he told cheering supporters in the capital Kuala Lumpur after results were announced after midnight.
"One of the programmes we will undertake is national reconciliation... I think we realise that there are a lot of things we have to do as a party."
But opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was in no mood to concede after the hopes of his three-party Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) alliance were dashed by a tide of late results in favor of the coalition that he calls corrupt and oppressive.
"It is an election that we consider fraudulent and the EC [Election Commission] has failed," an exhausted-looking Anwar told reporters.
The opposition ended with 89 seats, an increase of 14, largely at the expense of non-aligned candidates.
Azizuddin Sani, a political analyst from Universiti Utara Malaysia, said it would be "very difficult" to challenge the result, but that Najib needed to push on with promises of reform.
"Anwar can complain, but I don't think it will change the results," he said. "Najib in his new mandate needs to push on with the reformation plan. People need to see change... Like it or not, we will see a new Malaysia."
Voters took to the internet in droves to accuse Barisan and the Election Commission of trying to steal the election, as indelible ink that Najib touted as a guarantee against voter fraud was found to easily wash off.
Videos, pictures and first-hand accounts of purportedly foreign "voters" being confronted at polling centres by angry citizens also went viral online.
Anwar had earlier alleged a scheme to fly tens of thousands of "dubious" and possibly foreign voters to sway the outcome in key constituencies.
Opposition officials said Pakatan would explore legal avenues over such allegations, but it was believed to have little recourse to block the results.
Najib had been under pressure from within his ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Barisan's dominant force, to regain seats lost to Pakatan in landmark 2008 polls that saw an unprecedented swing to the opposition.
But while he failed to do so, Barisan basically held firm, and even gained back one of four states held by the opposition. Malaysia has 13 states.
Facing rising public calls for reform since being appointed after the 2008 elections, Najib has responded with some limited liberalisation moves which his critics say are cosmetic steps that avoid deep change.
He had called on voters to give him a mandate to pursue a deeper reform agenda.
Election authorities said a record 80 percent of the multi-ethnic country's 13 million registered voters -- or more than 10 million people -- had turned out Sunday.
Barisan's clear majority was secured with just 49 percent of the vote, according to tallies by independent online media.
Critics say that Barisan's gerrymandering, and tinkering with seat apportionment, have allowed it to win seat numbers greater than the support reflected in the popular vote.
Sunday's outcome raised the spectre of an end to the remarkable career of the charismatic Anwar. The 65-year-old had vowed to step aside as opposition leader if Pakatan failed to unseat the government.
Anwar was Barisan's deputy premier until his ouster in a 1998 power struggle with then-premier Mahathir Mohamad, which saw him jailed for six years on sex and corruption charges widely viewed as trumped up.
Anwar later brought his pan-racial appeal to the once-divided opposition, dramatically reversing its fortunes with pledges to combat corruption and reform controversial affirmative-action policies for majority Malays.
But Najib's ethnic Malay-dominated regime retains powerful advantages, including control of traditional media and key institutions. AFP