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Polls close in tight Malaysia vote with Najib's future at stake

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People line up to vote during the general election in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, May 9, 2018.

 

[KUALA LUMPUR] Malaysians cast their vote on Wednesday to determine whether Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling alliance can extend its 61-year run in power despite rising living costs and lingering corruption allegations.

Voting closed at 5 pm across the country with results expected to trickle in from 7 pm onward. A winner may not be known until late in the evening. Turnout reached 69 per cent as of 3 pm local time, according to the Election Commission website.

Malaysians went to polling stations early to avoid finding others using their names to vote and because of high chance of rain in the afternoon, Election Commission Chairman Hashim Abdullah told reporters. Turnout is expected to hit 85 per cent, the national news agency Bernama reported.

Mr Najib, 64, is under pressure to improve upon his performance in the 2013 election, when his Barisan Nasional coalition squeaked out a win while losing the popular vote for the first time. His main challenger is the 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister who effectively came out of retirement to try and oust Mr Najib.

“We will ensure tomorrow is better than today,” Mr Najib said on Tuesday night in his final campaign speech.

Mr Najib’s coalition is set to retain power even though it may lose the popular vote, according to a survey conducted by Merdeka Center For Opinion Research from April 28 to noon on Tuesday. It involved phone interviews with about 1,579 registered voters in 70 marginal seats in Peninsular Malaysia, which is home to the capital Kuala Lumpur and holds roughly 80 per cent of the population.

Polls in the run-up to the vote didn’t account for two states in the rain forest-covered island of Borneo accounting for a quarter of all seats. These have traditionally been a Barisan Nasional stronghold.

Both Mr Najib and Dr Mahathir, who have traded insults during the campaign, are seeking to court the support of the ethnic Malays who make up around 60 per cent of all voters. Dr Mahathir leads the four-party opposition alliance called Pakatan Harapan, which also includes Malaysia’s largest ethnic Chinese party.

Plans by a splinter opposition Islamic party known as PAS to stand its own contenders in many seats could siphon Malay votes away from Pakatan Harapan, ultimately helping Mr Najib’s coalition. PAS had cooperated with the main opposition bloc in the 2013 election.

 

The opposition bloc has highlighted bread-and-butter issues while also keeping the spotlight on a money-laundering scandal involving state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, which has implicated Mr Najib. He has denied any wrongdoing.

 

BLOOMBERG

 

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