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Malaysia gears up for election as Najib targets 'fake news'

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysia's political parties are gearing up for an election within months, with the ruling party launching a portal aimed at combating "fake news" and the opposition alliance holding a national convention this weekend.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, 64, said the portal, called TheRakyat - or "The People" - was a "significant step" for the Barisan Nasional coalition ahead of elections which must be held by August.

"We know that in the 13th general election, we were victims of fake news," he said at the portal's launch on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur.

He cited rumours of power outages at voting booths in the 2013 ballot and the suggestion that some votes were therefore not counted. "We believe this will happen again in the 14th general election. That's why we need a platform to connect to the people."

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At stake for the ruling coalition is its unbroken rule of the South-east Asian nation for more than 60 years. Under Mr Najib it suffered its worst showing yet at the 2013 poll, losing the popular vote for the first time and failing to recapture a two-thirds majority in parliament.

A stronger economy and ringgit could boost Mr Najib's chances this time, even as his rivals criticise him over rising living costs and corruption allegations. Mr Najib has denied the claims of graft and been cleared by local authorities.

A disparate opposition - as well as the four-party coalition known as Pakatan Harapan, there are a number of other major groups including the biggest Islamic opposition outfit - may also help Mr Najib. There's still the possibility of opposition candidates standing against each other in some districts.

Pakatan Harapan will meet on Sunday and is expected to name its pick for prime minister, with speculation centred around former premier Mahathir Mohamad, who split from Barisan Nasional and has become one of Mr Najib's fiercest critics. Mr Mahathir, who at 92 years of age is now chairman of Pakatan Harapan, said the group would announce "our future plans" at the end of its convention.

The opposition's de facto leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is in jail on a sodomy conviction, a charge he has denied. Pakatan Harapan would need to install an interim prime minister if it wins the election, then secure a royal pardon in order for Anwar to become premier.

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