Early opposition successes in Malaysia vote

Malaysia's upstart opposition claimed some early successes against the long-ruling regime in Sunday's bitter election battle but the final result was far from clear hours after polls closed.

Malaysians voted in record numbers in the general election, the first in the country's history to offer the prospect of a possible change of government.

But six hours after polls closed at 5 p.m. (0900 GMT) the country's Election Commission had confirmed only a quarter of the 222 parliament seats.

The Barisan Nasional (National Front) ruling coalition -- which has ruled since independence in 1957 -- raced out to an expected early lead as results for its strongholds in eastern Malaysia came in first.

Barisan had captured 39 seats to 16 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) led by Anwar Ibrahim as of 1500 GMT.

But Pakatan picked up a handful of new seats, while losing a smaller number, and opposition leaders were claiming at least another seven seats, five of which would be new.

The three-party Pakatan is riding momentum from historic gains in 2008 polls and has been gunning to become the first opposition bloc in the nation's history to triumph against Barisan. Barisan is slightly favoured to keep power.

In the just-dissolved parliament, Barisan held 135 seats to Pakatan's 75. At least 112 seats are required to form government.

Premier Najib Razak, who leads the ruling coalition, is under pressure to regain ground lost five years ago.

Anwar was deputy premier until his ouster in a 1998 power struggle with then-premier Mahathir Mohamad, and his jailing for six years on sex charges widely viewed as trumped up.

He later brought his pan-racial appeal to the once-divided opposition, dramatically reversing its fortunes.