Campaigns intensify ahead of Malaysia polls

By Zoe Daniel and Liam Cochrane | Source: Radio Australia

The latest opinion survey in Malaysia shows the Opposition coalition is slightly ahead for the first time, as Malaysians prepare to vote in Sunday’s general election.

Malaysia’s political rivals have launched a last-ditch campaign on the eve of elections that have been marred by allegations of vote buying and electoral fraud.

Sunday’s vote is the first elections in the country’s history in which the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition faces possible defeat.

Prime Minister Najib Razak and Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are campaigning hard through their home regions where they will cast their own ballots early on May 5.

The Opposition coalition has accused the interim government of attempting to rig the result.

It says BN is chartering planes to fly tens of thousands of “dubious” voters into pivotal areas.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says as many as 40,000 voters have been flown from Malaysia’s eastern states to the peninsula, allegedly to boost support for the ruling coalition in threatened constituencies.

The interim government has acknowledged the flights but called them part of a “get out the vote” drive.

UMNO’s secretary-general Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor says the flights have been paid for by “friends” of BN.

He says it is a “normal” practice and has denied the prime minister’s office is involved.

Malaysia’s Election Commission says political parties are allowed to transport voters to their electorate, as long as they don’t try to influence which way they vote.

Barisan Nasional has tightly held power in Malaysia since independence in 1957.

But its grip is slipping amid rising anger over corruption, controversial policies favouring Malays and authoritarian tactics.

A survey released on Friday indicated the result was too close to predict, with Barisan and the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition 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,” Mr 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.

Close race

The latest survey by Independent Madika Centre shows the Opposition coalition enjoys a very narrow lead with 42 per cent support.

Barisan National stands at 41 per cent, with the rest undecided or not saying.

The opinion poll shows the third consecutive slip in support for incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak, but his approval rating still sits at 61 per cent.

The Madika polls shows 46 seats undecided largely semi-rural constituencies within 50 to 100 kilometres of a rural centre.

In a nationally televised interview, Prime Minister Najib Razak 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.

But opposition leaders and activists have warned the election could be “stolen” by BN, which has a history of alleged voter fraud in past polls.

“The most critical elections in Malaysia’s history are likely to be stolen from the people with a series of fraudulent moves on the eve of polling day”, said a statement by Bersih, a clean-polls NGO coalition that has organised huge electoral-reform rallies.

Fraud concerns

Last week it was revealed that indelible ink meant to mark voters’ fingers to prevent multiple voting could be washed off.

The Opposition coalition is denouncing the Electoral Commission for not clearing up electoral rolls and is urging greater accountability.

Violence also has raised tensions, though no deaths have been reported.

In the latest incident, an explosive device detonated at a power substation near the Kuala Lumpur headquarters of Mr Anwar’s party on Friday, causing minor damage, a party official said.

The Opposition Coalition is denouncing the Electoral Commission for not clearing up electoral rolls and urges greater accountability.

Mr Anwar was Barisan’s heir-apparent until a 1998 power struggle saw him jailed for six years on sex and graft charges widely criticised as trumped up.

He promises a more transparent government and an end to ties between business and the powerful ruling elite.

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