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May 9 face-off between Najib and former premier Mahathir

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Malaysians will cast their vote on May 9 in what will be a showdown between caretaker Prime Minister Najib Razak and Mahathir Mohamad, the nation's longest-serving premier.

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIANS will cast their vote on May 9 in what will be a showdown between caretaker Prime Minister Najib Razak and Mahathir Mohamad, the nation's longest-serving premier.

The campaign period will be shortened to 11 days, from 15 days in the 2013 election, with the nomination day for candidates set for April 28, Mohd Hashim Abdullah, chairman of the election commission, told reporters on Tuesday.

At stake is 60 years of unbroken rule by Barisan Nasional coalition, with Mr Najib, 64, at its helm. He seeks to extend his premiership for a third term, after leading his alliance to its worst showing in the previous election, when it lost the popular vote and won control of the parliament by its slimmest-ever margin five years ago. His contender is the 92-year-old Dr Mahathir, who is leading opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan on a campaign anchored on removing Mr Najib.

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"Setting the election date on a weekday is tactically advantageous for BN because it makes it more troublesome for urbanites to cast their votes," Alan Richardson, a fund manager at Samsung Asset Management Ltd in Hong Kong said by email. "Urbanites seem to have the most complaints against the ruling government."

The last time Malaysia held the polls in the middle of week was in 1982 when the vote was held starting on a Thursday. Elections since then were held on days varying from Friday to Monday. Under the law, employers are required to give a "reasonable period" for workers to cast their votes or be liable to a fine of RM5,000 (S$1,690) or one-year imprisonment.

Najib has overseen a growing economy buoyed by a recovery in global crude oil prices and increased trade and infrastructure investment from Malaysia's largest trading partner, China. But he has been plagued by reports of alleged financial mismanagement at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), including that US$681 million was deposited into his personal bank account.

Mr Najib has denied any wrongdoing in connection with 1MDB, but the scandal created a rift with Dr Mahathir, who has become the prime minister's harshest critic.

Last Saturday, Mr Najib unveiled a manifesto targeted towards his vote bank: Muslims and ethnic Malays, civil servants, as well as Sabah and Sarawak states. He also promised to double cash transfers for the poor for the remainder of the year and introduced two new categories of recipients. He pledged that his government would correct its past weaknesses, and that Malaysians would live "peacefully and prosperously" under his administration.

The opposition is capitalising on the 1MDB scandal as well as the people's concern over rising costs, with a promise to abolish the unpopular goods-and-services tax in its first 100 days in power while maintaining cash transfers.

Dr Mahathir is the opposition's choice for interim prime minister until its jailed de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim is eligible to take over. BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

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