Malaysians vote in toughest election yet for ruling coalition

Geneva Stokes
May 10, 2018

Malaysians went to the polls today in the most closely fought election in years, pitting an opposition alliance headed by the country's former strongman ruler against a government led by his scandal-plagued former protégé.

Analysts said the win by the opposition was a resounding rejection of Malaysia's political status quo.

Malaysia is counting ballots after the people voted in a fiercely contested general election.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak talks to reporters after voting.

Angered by a massive financial scandal that has tarnished Malaysia's worldwide image, Mahathir has teamed up with an alliance of parties that opposed him when he was in power, and which includes jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim - his former nemesis.

Malays, who make up some 60 per cent of the country's 32 million people, have long formed the bedrock of support for the BN coalition, and winning over the group is key to victory in the election. A total of 112 seats are needed to win the election.

"We can not be confident that [the opposition] will look after our interests, especially the people in the rural areas, the interests of Islam and the interests of the Malays", he told a rally in Pahang state at the weekend, state news agency Bernama reported.

Journalists flocked to the headquarters of Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the lynchpin in the ruling coalition, but he failed to turn up to give a speech and the media were told to leave.

The opposition, which has sought to project a more multi-racial image, has been unable to mobilise support among rural Malays, adding to difficulties of trying to unseat a deeply entrenched government. Mahathir accused the commission of holding back results.

It is also a surprising exception to backsliding on democratic values in Southeast Asia, a region of more than 600 million people where governments of countries including Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines have swung toward harsh authoritarian rule.

S. Mahfuz  BenarNews
S. Mahfuz BenarNews

Election Commission Chairman Mohamad Hashim Abdullah says voters aren't allowed to cast ballots after 5 p.m. even if they're in a queue at polling places.

Amid escalating anger over a massive financial scandal, Mahathir came out of retirement to take on his former protégé Najib, upending an election race that had long looked like an easy win for the government.

Anwar, a former prime minister who was sacked by Mahathir in 1998 and then imprisoned for alleged sodomy and corruption after leading protests against his government, helped smooth Mahathir's acceptance by opposition parties by publicly reconciling with him.

Despite the 1MDB scandal - the fund is being investigated for money-laundering and graft in at least six countries - corruption issues are not expected to hurt Najib's chances.

In a tweet, Najib condemned the "tactic of spam calls" from worldwide numbers received by his camp's leaders and said web sites of the BN alliance could not be accessed.

But in rural areas, the rising cost of living, which has hit poor Malays hard, was the main concern at the election particularly after the introduction of an unpopular sales tax in 2015.

Calling it a "pakatan fitnah" (coalition of lies), he blamed the opposition for using "tactics and dirty tricks" in the general election.

Opponents said electoral boundary changes rushed through parliament last month favor the National Front by shifting likely opposition voters into seats where the opposition already prevails.

The opposition has been targeted by authorities during the campaign, with police launching a probe into Mahathir for allegedly breaking a controversial new law against fake news after he claimed a plane he chartered was sabotaged.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.

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