Wed, Apr 11, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Election date to decide Najib’s fate set

HUMP DAY:A lower voter turnout is expected for the May 9 midweek election, which could work in Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s favor, analysts say

AP, KUALA LUMPUR

Malaysian elections that could determine scandal-plagued Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s political survival were set for May 9, an unusual workday date with a shorter campaign period than during the last polls.

Past Malaysian elections were mostly on weekends, though workday votes are not unprecedented. National polls in 1995 and 1999 under former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, the opposition leader who is Najib’s strongest challenger, were on a Monday.

The Election Commission yesterday set an 11-day campaigning period, shorter than the 15 days in 2013 polls.

It said 14.94 million voters would cast their ballot, an increase of 1.7 million new voters.

Analysts said lower turnout could disadvantage the opposition led by Mahathir, Asia’s longest-serving leader for 22 years before he retired in 2003.

“There is a chance for a lower turnout, especially for those who have to travel to vote. A reduced turnout is likely to favor the incumbent,” said Rashaad Ali, research analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

Mahathir, who leads a four-party opposition alliance, has said a high voter turnout was needed for an opposition victory. In 2013, when the opposition won the popular vote for the first time, a record 85 percent of voters cast their ballot.

Najib, 64, is seeking a third term in office and under pressure to improve his National Front coalition’s performance after support eroded in the past two elections.

He has been dogged by a massive corruption scandal involving the state-owned 1MDB fund, which is under investigation in the US and other countries for allegations of cross-border embezzlement and money laundering.

A strong victory is pivotal for Najib ahead of year-end party elections in his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) which is the linchpin of the coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independent from Britain in 1957.

“I would consider this election the ultimate test of survival for Najib. If Najib fails to deliver a strong result, voices of dissent within UMNO will surely grow louder making his position as leader untenable. If he does well in the election, it would be the biggest consolidation of his position,” Rashaad said.

Najib faces an unprecedented challenge from his former mentor Mahathir, who returned to politics two years ago amid anger over the scandal involving 1MDB, which was set up and previously led by Najib, but which accumulated billions in debt.

Opposition lawmakers said the 1MDB scandal had turned the country into a global kleptocracy and warned that re-electing the ruling coalition would destroy Malaysia.

The US Department of Justice said at least US$4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB by associates of Najib and it is working to seize US$1.7 billion allegedly taken from the fund to buy assets in the US.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing and strengthened his grip on power by firing critics and muzzling the media.

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