Political titans face off in Malaysia’s suspense election this week

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On May 9, Malaysia goes to the polls in an election that seems to become the most suspenseful ever in the country with two political titans, Prime Minister Najib Razak and his ex-mentor and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, facing off at the ballot boxes.

While international observers believe that the incumbent leader would easily win against the 92-year-old, but vigorous  contender Mahathir despite Najib has been mired in a multi-billion-dollar scandal of state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, domestic observers are not so sure.

Malaysian analysts and politicians on both sides of the aisle are warning of a close fight as Najib’s coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) looks to extend its unbroken 61-year rule which has already been questioned at the polls five years ago when it won just 133 constituencies — roughly 59 per cent of parliamentary seats — in its worst performance ever.

This time, about 65 per cent of the seats are thought to be competitive, up from 50 per cent in the last election in 2013. In most ways the task facing Najib looks harder this time amid declining support.

Opposition is robust and spearheaded by a well-respected Mahathir, the country’s longest-serving leader who fell out with the ruling party United Malays National Organisation, and long-time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. However, while Mahathir has demonstrated an ability to win Malay votes, his diverse Pakatan Harapan coalition has at times struggled to present a cohesive message to voters.

Estimations of the outcome of the election are varying extremely. Political consultancy Eurasia Group put the odds of a Mahathir win at 15 per cent, while others said it would become a much tighter head-to-head race.

A survey released by pollster Merdeka Center conducted from April 28 to May 1 showed the opposition making gains, but not enough to land a majority of parliament’s seats. It saw Mahathir’s alliance winning 43.7 per cent of the popular vote in Peninsular Malaysia and BN 40.3 per cent. The poll did not cover the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, which account for a quarter of seats in parliament and have historically been pro-BN although there have been recent signs of a swing away from the government in Sabah.

In any case, a result worse than 2013 would be a clear embarrassment for Najib and is likely to increase pressure from inside his party to step aside.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

On May 9, Malaysia goes to the polls in an election that seems to become the most suspenseful ever in the country with two political titans, Prime Minister Najib Razak and his ex-mentor and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, facing off at the ballot boxes.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On May 9, Malaysia goes to the polls in an election that seems to become the most suspenseful ever in the country with two political titans, Prime Minister Najib Razak and his ex-mentor and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, facing off at the ballot boxes.

While international observers believe that the incumbent leader would easily win against the 92-year-old, but vigorous  contender Mahathir despite Najib has been mired in a multi-billion-dollar scandal of state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, domestic observers are not so sure.

Malaysian analysts and politicians on both sides of the aisle are warning of a close fight as Najib’s coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) looks to extend its unbroken 61-year rule which has already been questioned at the polls five years ago when it won just 133 constituencies — roughly 59 per cent of parliamentary seats — in its worst performance ever.

This time, about 65 per cent of the seats are thought to be competitive, up from 50 per cent in the last election in 2013. In most ways the task facing Najib looks harder this time amid declining support.

Opposition is robust and spearheaded by a well-respected Mahathir, the country’s longest-serving leader who fell out with the ruling party United Malays National Organisation, and long-time opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. However, while Mahathir has demonstrated an ability to win Malay votes, his diverse Pakatan Harapan coalition has at times struggled to present a cohesive message to voters.

Estimations of the outcome of the election are varying extremely. Political consultancy Eurasia Group put the odds of a Mahathir win at 15 per cent, while others said it would become a much tighter head-to-head race.

A survey released by pollster Merdeka Center conducted from April 28 to May 1 showed the opposition making gains, but not enough to land a majority of parliament’s seats. It saw Mahathir’s alliance winning 43.7 per cent of the popular vote in Peninsular Malaysia and BN 40.3 per cent. The poll did not cover the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, which account for a quarter of seats in parliament and have historically been pro-BN although there have been recent signs of a swing away from the government in Sabah.

In any case, a result worse than 2013 would be a clear embarrassment for Najib and is likely to increase pressure from inside his party to step aside.

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