Malaysians vote in hard-fought elections

Malaysians vote in hard-fought elections


Malaysians went to the polls on Saturday with the transplant-tainted party of jailed ex-leader Najib Razak in a bid to cement their hold on power in a race analysts say is too close to call.

Around 21 million registered voters are expected to pour into polling stations throughout the day amid fears that heavy monsoon rains could disrupt elections in certain areas.

Najib’s United Malays National Organization (UMNO) normally dominates politics in the Southeast Asian country but suffered a heavy defeat in the 2018 general election following a massive corruption scandal at sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

However, the two governments that succeeded UMNO were plagued by power struggles, allowing the party to creep back into power last year. Now UMNO will seek a stronger mandate in an election scheduled ten months ahead of schedule.

Among the challengers is longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, 75, who leads the ethnically mixed Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition. He is campaigning on an anti-corruption platform.

As he ages, this election could be Anwar’s last chance to fulfill a 20-year dream of leading Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy.

He is fighting against the ruling Barisan National coalition, which is dominated by UMNO and led by Najib loyalist and ex-Interior Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. This includes Acting Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

UMNO remains shaken by allegations of corruption. Najib, who was at the center of the 1MDB scandal, is currently serving a 12-year sentence.

Opposition parties say they are concerned that if UMNO wins, the ex-PM could walk free and the corruption charges against Zahid and other party leaders could be dropped.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, 97, and another ex-leader Muhyiddin Yassin, 75, are leading two other coalitions contesting the elections.

The weather bureau predicted rain and thunderstorms across the country.

– “Fragmented Political Landscape” –

Analysts said there was no clear leader among the four coalitions seeking the 222 parliamentary seats at stake.

Malaysians will vote from a record 945 candidates in the mostly Muslim nation, which also includes the states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

“Voters can expect a plethora of candidates on their ballots, so they will have a hard time deciding between candidates with similar positions,” said Oh Ei Sun of the Pacific Research Center of Malaysia.

The number of eligible voters has risen from 18 million four years ago to over 21 million after the voting age was lowered in 2021.

Around 1.4 million of the newcomers are first-time voters between the ages of 18 and 20.

The majority of voters live in the countryside, where patronage politics still prevail.

Analysts said the multinational state faces further political instability if no coalition wins a clear majority.

“If Pakatan Harapan cannot secure an absolute parliamentary majority, the dominant UMNO party or one of the Malaysian Muslim parties would form a coalition government,” Oh told AFP.

“Voters will likely look forward to a similarly fragmented political landscape post-election, with plenty of horse-trading to form the next governing coalition.”

The election comes as Malaysians face soaring food prices and flash floods from monsoon rains continue to ravage parts of the country.

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