Thu, May 10, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Najib’s future at stake in tight Malaysian vote

TOUGH RACE:The prime minister is hoping an economic upturn would prevail over a scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development

Bloomberg

People line up to vote in a general election in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Malaysians yesterday cast their vote to determine whether Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling alliance could extend its 61-year run in power, despite rising living costs and corruption allegations.

Voting closed at 5pm in Kuala Lumpur, with results expected to trickle in from 7pm onward. A winner might not be known until late in the evening.

Turnout reached 69 percent as of 3pm, the Election Commission of Malaysia Web site said.

Malaysians went to polling stations early to avoid finding others using their names to vote and because of high chance of rain in the afternoon, Election Commission Chairman Hashim Abdullah told reporters. Turnout is expected to hit 85 percent, the national news agency Bernama reported.

Najib, 64, is under pressure to improve upon his performance in the 2013 election, when his Barisan Nasional coalition squeaked out a win, while losing the popular vote for the first time.

His main challenger is 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister who effectively came out of retirement to try and oust Najib.

“We will ensure tomorrow is better than today,” Najib said in his final campaign speech.

Najib’s coalition is set to retain power, even though it may lose the popular vote, according to a survey conducted by Merdeka Center For Opinion Research from April 28 to Tuesday. It involved phone interviews with about 1,579 registered voters in 70 marginal seats in Peninsular Malaysia, which is home to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and holds about 80 percent of the population.

Polls in the run-up to the vote did not account for two states on Borneo island, which account for a quarter of all seats. These have traditionally been a Barisan Nasional stronghold.

Najib and Mahathir, who have traded insults during the campaign, are seeking to court the support of ethnic Malays who make up about 60 percent of all voters. Mahathir leads the four-party opposition alliance called Pakatan Harapan, which also includes Malaysia’s largest ethnic Chinese party.

Plans by a splinter opposition Islamic party known as PAS to stand its own contenders in many seats could siphon Malay votes away from Pakatan Harapan, ultimately helping Najib’s coalition.

Najib said in an interview last month that he was confident of a better showing than 2013. In that election, his Barisan Nasional coalition won 133 constituencies — about 59 percent of parliamentary seats — in its worst performance ever. He is counting on an economic upturn and a divided opposition to boost his chances this time around.

The opposition has highlighted bread-and-butter issues while also keeping the spotlight on a money-laundering scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which has implicated Najib.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

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