(CNN) -- In a surprise upset, Malaysia's ruling party, which has retained power since the nation declared independence in 1967, fell short of a two-thirds majority Saturday amid rising inflation, crime and ethnic tensions.
Opposition leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, with husband Anwar Ibrahim, casts her vote Saturday.
The National Front coalition won 137 of the 222 seats at stake, or less than 62 percent, the Election Commission announced in releasing preliminary results, according to state news agency Bernama.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's opposition party claimed 82 seats.
By contrast, in 2004, the National Front clinched 199 of 219 seats, or nearly 91 percent.
"Today, at the ballot box, you listened to your heart with a firm conviction that the time for change has arrived," Anwar said. "The people of Malaysia have spoken. This is a defining moment, unprecedented in our nation's history." Watch Anwar describe the election as a "defining moment" »
Anwar's opposition has gradually chipped away at the National Front's power, leaving some concerned about the future of party leader and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Badawi, who has held the post since November 2003, dismissed such talk at a news conference Saturday, according to the news agency.
"I don't know who is being pressured" to step down, Badawi said. "I'm not resigning."
Badawi has been battling demonstrations against alleged vote fraud for weeks and demanded an overhaul of Malaysia's electoral commission before the election.
Last fall, more than 30,000 protesters gathered in the streets and faced squads of police with water cannons. E-mail to a friend
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