Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Malaysians go to the polls today to decide the outcome of one of the country’s most fiercely contested political battles in recent decades. Prime Minister Najib Razak and his coalition Barisan Nasional face the challenge of their former mentor: former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. In this election round, all 222 parliamentarians and 505 officials of the various state assemblies will be elected. More than 14 million Malaysians have the right to vote, which they will exercise between 8am and 5pm in the country’s 8,253 polling stations.
The federal government has set a public holiday to allow all citizens to fulfill their obligation. Many had expressed concern that voting during the workweek would have influenced voter turnout. On May 5, the Electoral Commission of Malaysia (EC) opened 586 seats nationwide for early voting. There were about 278 thousand first voters including royal police agents, Armed Forces and Special Task Force personnel and their spouses. According to EC, they make up the majority of the 300,000 people who would benefit from the early vote.
Today the rest of the 14.5 million registered voters go to the polls. Both the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN), and the opposition coalition, the Pakatan Harapan (Ph), are confident of obtaining the 112 parliamentary seats to form a majority. In the last general election of 2013, the BN won 133, despite losing the popular vote. Prime Minister Najib Razak declares that today the BN can win by a wide margin, having crossed the whole country since April 28, when the campaign began.
The leader of PH Mahathir Mohamad is supported by the large turnout of opposition demonstrations, and expects a “people’s tsunami” to defeat the ruling government. The 92-year-old politician has already been premier from 1981 to 2003 and is the longest-running leader in national history. Mahathir joined an alliance of parties that opposed him when he was in power. It includes the icon of the opposition Anwar Ibrahim, his former bitter rival, now in prison serving a five-year sentence for sodomy.
A third contender, the Islamic Party-Malaysia (PAS), is a candidate for 158 parliamentary seats and aims to win 40. The PAS leaders believe that this number will allow them to tip the balance, if the number of federal seats won by BN and PH is not enough to form a majority. Analysts argue that many key factors will decisively influence voters’ choices. Among them the increase in the cost of living; the tax on goods and services, introduced in 2015; corruption of some key government figures.