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Najib dangles minimum wage hike, other benefits ahead of vote

BN also says it has detected an opposition ploy to admit Dr Mahathir into a hospital before polling day to draw sympathy votes

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Mr Najib leaving after submitting his documents at the nomination centre in Pekan on April 28. A weaker majority in the elections could leave Mr Najib open to an internal leadership challenge.

Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA'S Prime Minister Najib Razak promised on Tuesday to raise the minimum wage this year if he wins the May 9 general election, adding to a raft of promises to voters as he faces a resurgent opposition.

Mr Najib's former mentor, Mahathir Mohamad, now leads an opposition alliance united in the goal of unseating the prime minister and his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has ruled since the country gained independence from the British in 1957.

Mr Najib told a Labour Day rally that he would raise the minimum wage from the current RM1,000 (S$336) per month in peninsular Malaysia and RM920 in the eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak, if his coalition wins the polls.

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"So if you want the minimum wage rate to be raised, you know what to do. Do we have a deal?" he said to cheers from some 2,000 people gathered at the rally, Reuters reported.

Mr Najib also announced RM200 million for a skilled workers programme, an additional RM60 million allocation for an insurance plan for retrenched workers and better maternity benefits for private sector workers.

Mr Najib said this was all part of his administration's efforts to better the lot of the country's workers over his nine years in charge.

"If the Barisan Nasional government is a flower, the workers are the stem. Hence, do not be drawn to and drink from another 'flower'," he said, in a thinly-veiled reference to the logo of Mahathir's new party.

Campaigning officially kicked off on Saturday, and Najib has since crisscrossed the country opening new schools, meeting voters and promising aid and benefits to voters in mostly rural constituencies that form the bedrock of support for his ruling coalition.

This general election, Malaysia's 14th, is arguably the toughest faced by Mr Najib's undefeated coalition.

Besides the challenge from the 92-year-old Dr Mahathir, Mr Najib is also grappling with a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and anger over rising living costs.

BN are widely expected to retain power, but a weaker majority in the 222-seat parliament could leave Mr Najib open to an internal leadership challenge.

Meanwhile, BN says it has detected an opposition ploy to admit Dr Mahathir into a hospital before polling day to draw sympathy votes.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the opposition's "surprise last-minute attack" was aimed at getting sympathy votes from the people of Langkawi and other constituencies.

He did not discount the possibility that Dr Mahathir would use this tactic based on his recent allegation that his aircraft had been sabotaged,the Star online news website reported.

"He wanted to get sympathy before nomination day, claiming that the incident was to get him disqualified to contest in the Langkawi parliamentary seat.

"We know him because we have worked for him. His strategy and tactics may have changed, but the template remains the same - confuse voters, gain sympathy and blame others, even if the weakness is his," he said.

Turning to Selangor's water woes Dr Ahmad Zahid said BN will resolve the problem when it retakes the state.

"If they cannot settle the water problem, we will," he said at the site of a proposed People's Housing Project (PPR) in Carey Island.

Dr Ahmad Zahid has pledged to start construction of the PPR scheme for the island's mixed community after it wrests back the state.

"I will return here 120 days after May 9 to start off the project after we win the state back," he said.