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by RAY FLEMING
THERE were elections all over the place last weekend but the only one that returned something close to the status quo was Spain's. In France, the first stage of the two-stage local elections showed that the Socialist opposition to President Sarkozy is not down and out as some commentators had suggested.

The party captured a dozen towns outright, without the need of a second vote, and it seems likely that it will take Paris and Strasbourg next Sunday and possibly Toulouse and Marseilles also. Nicolas Sarkozy will be glad to see these elections over so that he can start rebuilding his authority after a distinctly unimpressive few months, officially and personally. But the election in Malaysia was by far the most interesting. The country's Barisan Nasional ruling coalition was jolted by voting that produced for the first time since independence an opposition capable of challenging it.

Although Barisan Nasional still holds a fairly comfortable overall majority in Parliament , this is the first time that the possibility of a major shift in Malaysian politics has emerged. “This is a defining moment, unprecedented in our nation's history” said Anwar Ibrahim who master-minded tactics in the three opposition parties so that they did not compete against each other.

That optimism was borne out by the opposition's success in the 13 state assemblies in five of which power passed to the opposition. Anwar Ibrahim called for a new era where all Malaysians, regardless of race or religion, are seen as a nation of one”.