KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA, OCT. 21 -- Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad returned to power today for a third term with a landslide win in the country's eighth parliamentary elections, defeating the country's first opposition alliance.

"This shows that the people want a strong government," Mahathir, 64, told reporters after saying a prayer of thanks and being cheered.

Election Commission officials said results showed Mahathir's National Front coalition had taken 121 of the 180 parliamentary seats at stake, giving him a two-thirds majority. Mahathir, who took office in 1981, needed the two-thirds majority to push key bills through parliament.

He had gone to the polls facing his stiffest challenge, from a 10-party opposition alliance led by rival Razaleigh Hamzah.

The alliance, however, dealt a blow to Mahathir by sweeping all 39 seats in the legislative assembly of Razaleigh's northeastern home state Kelantan, a fundamentalist Moslem stronghold.

"We accept the verdict of the Kelantan people and we hope they would accept the verdict of the rest of the country," Mahathir said.

Mahathir had called elections a year ahead of schedule, campaigning for continuity of his policies. Razaleigh, a former finance minister, had urged voters to "save Malaysia" from human rights abuses and corruption.