Kuala Lumpur: Malaysians went to the polls on Wednesday in one of the country’s closest-ever elections which pits scandal-hit Prime Minister Najib Razak against his one-time mentor, 92-year-old former authoritarian leader Mahathir Mohamad.
Najib is seeking to retain power at the head of a regime that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957, but veteran ex-leader Mahathir’s shock comeback has upended the election race.
Angered by a massive financial scandal that has tarnished Malaysia’s international 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.
Najib’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition is seen as likely to retain power mainly due to an electoral system critics say has been heavily manipulated to favour the government, but analysts predict the government will lose the popular vote for the second consecutive election.
Malaysian elections have long been plagued by allegations of fraud and as voting got underway, both opposition leaders and senior BN members claimed their phones had been jammed by spam calls in an attempt to stop them communicating with their teams.
The race is expected to be tight. The opposition alliance has gained ground in recent weeks as Mahathir, who ruled with an iron fist for 22 years, has chipped away at the government’s key support base, the Muslim-Malay majority.
Polls closed at 5:00 pm (0900 GMT). There was no immediate word on the final turnout, with the last update from the Election Commission at 3:00 pm putting it at 69 percent. The opposition says it needs a high turnout to have a chance of ousting Najib.
There was a surge in voting in the morning but it slowed later in the day. Final results are expected late Wednesday or early Thursday.