Malaysia’s bitter political rivals launched a last-ditch campaign sprint yesterday on the eve of the first elections in the country’s history in which the long-ruling regime faces possible defeat.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim barnstormed through their home regions, where they will cast their own ballots early today in elections marred by violence and allegations of government vote fraud.
The opposition has set the stage for a possibly destabilizing challenge to the results, accusing the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition of attempting to rig the result.
The ethnic Malay-dominated regime has tightly held power in the multi-racial nation since independence in 1957, steering it from a backwater to an economic success.
However, its grip is slipping amid rising anger over corruption, controversial policies favoring Malays and authoritarian tactics.
A survey released on Friday indicated that the result was too close to predict, with Barisan and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) alliance roughly equal in terms of support, but with a large undecided bloc.
“This election is an election of the people fighting oppressive and corrupt rulers,” Anwar told a cheering crowd in a campaign stop in northern Malaysia late on Friday.
A simple parliamentary majority is enough to form a government.
Its back to the wall, Barisan has launched an all-out blitz, with Najib warning of “chaos” if Pakatan wins, while the nation’s government-controlled newspapers have been full of harsh attacks on Pakatan across their front pages.
In a nationally televised interview late on Friday, Najib appealed to voters for a “strong mandate” so he can implement his promises of reform.
“Definitely, with a strong mandate, we can do much better in the next five years,” he said.
However, in a further ominous sign for Barisan, the charismatic Anwar has drawn massive crowds on the stump, including late on Friday when tens of thousands of supporters swamped the capital of the opposition-held northern state of Penang.
Opposition leaders and activists have warned the election could be “stolen” by Barisan, which has a history of alleged voter fraud in past polls.