Malaysians start voting in 2013 General Election
JOHOR BAHRU — Malaysians have begun voting in an election that could weaken or even end the rule of one of the world’s longest-lived coalitions, which faces a stiff challenge from an opposition pledging to clean up politics and end race-based policies.
Led by former finance minister Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition is aiming to build on startling electoral gains in 2008, when the Barisan Nasional (BN), ruling coalition lost its customary two-thirds parliamentary majority.
The result signaled a breakdown in traditional politics as minority ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians, as well as many majority Malays, rejected BN’s brand of race-based patronage that has ensured stability in the Southeast Asian nation but led to corruption and widening inequality.
Hundreds of people lined up outside polling stations across the country, many of them first-time voters concerned about the rising living costs, higher crime and corruption in a government that has been in power for 56 years.
“I would like to see some change,” said Wardina Shafie, a 31-year-old computer engineer after she cast her vote on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital. “I think the opposition has a good chance of taking government. I only worry about voter fraud.”
The campaigning had heated up in recent days with Anwar accusing the coalition of flying up to 40,000 “dubious” voters across the country to vote in close races. The government says it was merely helping voters to return to their hometowns.
Polling will end at 5 pm. Officials expect the first results for 222 parliamentary seats and over 500 state seats to start trickling in from 8 pm onwards.
Opinion polls suggest a tight race that could further reduce the coalition majority, lead the opposition to dispute the result over claims of fraud and spill over to street protests.
Under Prime Minister Najib Razak, the blue-blood son of a former leader, the coalition has tried to win over a growing middle class with social reforms and secure traditional voters with a US$2.6 billion deluge of cash handouts to poor families.
He can point to robust growth of 5.6 percent last year as evidence that his Economic Transformation Programme to double incomes by 2020 is bearing fruit, while warning that the untested three-party opposition would spark economic ruin.