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Close election leaves Malaysia prime minister’s fate cloudy

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Though it held on to power in the election Sunday, the governing National Front coalition suffered an important loss: For the first time in 44 years, it failed to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote. Analysts said it left Prime Minister Najib Razak’s position far from secure.

Najib and his National Front coalition, which has governed Malaysia since independence in 1957, won 133 of the 222 seats in Parliament on Sunday, aided by favorably drawn district boundaries. News of the victory prompted Malaysian stocks to surge nearly 8 percent Monday, and the country’s currency, the ringgit, jumped in value.

Both had been depressed by signs that the National Front was in greater danger of losing power than ever before. As it was, the three-party opposition People’s Alliance took seven seats from the National Front, extending the gains it made in the last election in 2008, when the Front lost the two-thirds majority that had allowed it to amend the constitution at will. The 2008 vote hastened the resignation of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as prime minister the next year, giving way to Najib. The leader of the People’s Alliance, Anwar Ibrahim, said Monday that the latest election was marred by fraud and that his coalition would challenge the results of some races.

—Joe Cochrane, The New York Times

Senate backs wider Internet tax collection

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan coalition in the Senate easily passed legislation Monday to force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes for state and local governments, sending the issue to the House, where anti-tax forces have vowed to kill it.

But the 69-27 vote in the Senate will give the measure significant momentum. Hundreds of retailers are flying to Washington this week to pressure House lawmakers and counter the arguments of small-government groups, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which wields great influence in the House.

“After 20 years, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for our brick-and-mortar businesses,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., the bill’s House sponsor. “Saving local retail business depends on it, and it’s now up to the House to act.”

The Marketplace Fairness Act is a rarity in Washington these days, a significant tax measure that has split anti-tax groups in Washington from reliably Republican Main Street businesses outside the capital. That divide has given the measure at least a chance to reach President Barack Obama, who supports it.

The legislation would allow states to force online retailers with more than $1 million in annual out-of-state sales to collect sales taxes from all customers and remit those taxes back to state and local governments. States would have to provide software to help calculate the taxes for thousands of jurisdictions.

—Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times