KUALA LUMPUR: Voting ended in Malaysia on Saturday with the ruling party of jailed ex-leader Najib Razak, stricken by scandal, seeking to consolidate its power in a close race with Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition.
The popular opposition leader campaigned on a pledge to tackle corruption in Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy, where people are grappling with soaring food prices.
There were long queues at polling centers across the country despite concerns about monsoon rains, and voters polled by AFP said they hoped for political stability and economic improvement.
“I want a strong government and a stable economy so that there are more job opportunities for young people,” said Nurul Hazwani Firdon, a 20-year-old guardian, as she went to vote in the rural town. of Bera in Pahang State.
Social media posts showed people queuing in knee-deep water outside a polling center in Sarawak state on the island of Borneo.
A video on Twitter showed an elderly woman being carried on someone’s back to a flooded polling station.
The electoral commission said the turnout of the 21 million registered voters was 70 percent as of 4 p.m. (0800 GMT), two hours before the polls closed.
Najib’s United Malayan National Organization (UMNO) usually dominates Malaysian politics, but it suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2018 general election after a massive corruption scandal at state fund 1MDB.
The former prime minister, who was at the center of the 1MDB storm, is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence.
Due to infighting in two successive governments since 2018, UMNO returned to power last year despite lingering corruption allegations and is seeking a stronger mandate in Saturday’s elections, called 10 months earlier. provided that.
The ruling Barisan Nasional bloc, dominated by UMNO, clashes with Anwar and his allies.
With age, this may be Anwar’s last chance to fulfill his long-held dream of leading Malaysia.
“A victory today would certainly be gratifying after more than two decades of struggling to win the hearts and minds of the people,” Anwar, 75, told AFP before voting in Penang state.
He added that he was “cautiously confident” that his Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) could secure a simple majority in the 222-member parliament.
Interim Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of the ruling coalition cast his vote in Bera.
“I hope the voters will choose a government that can guarantee security and stability,” he told reporters.
A record 945 candidates are vying for seats in parliament in the predominantly Muslim country.
Former prime ministers Mahathir Mohamad, 97, and Muhyiddin Yassin, 75, lead two other coalitions.
Corruption was a key issue during the campaign, with opposition parties repeatedly warning that if UMNO won, Najib could walk free and corruption charges against other party leaders could be dropped.
The 1MDB scandal, in which billions of dollars of public funds were diverted to Beverly Hills properties, a superyacht, a Hollywood movie and Najib’s own bank account, sparked investigations in Singapore, Switzerland and the United States. United.
Analysts said there was no clear favorite among the four coalitions.
A poll conducted by pollster Merdeka Center on the eve of the election showed Anwar’s coalition winning 82 seats out of the total number of contested seats, and 33 percent favoring him as prime minister.
There were supposed to be 222 seats at stake, but two candidates died and voting in one constituency was suspended due to bad weather.
Merdeka analyst Ibrahim Suffian told AFP it was “still possible for Anwar to secure a simple majority” given the high turnout in the final days of his campaign.
Malaysia lowered its voting age from 21 to 18 last year, a move that added six million voters to the rolls for this election.
Nearly 1.4 million of the total registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 20.
Analysts said younger voters are leaning towards the opposition’s more progressive politics.
However, the majority of registered voters live in rural areas of Malaysia where UMNO-dominated patronage politics still dominate.
Analysts have said the multiracial country will experience further political instability if no coalition wins a clear majority.



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