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Supporters hit the streets as Malaysia election campaign to start
[LANGKAWI] Flag-waving supporters marched in Malaysia on Saturday as candidates registered to run in hard-fought elections next month, with campaigning set to officially start later in the day.
Prime Minister Najib Razak is facing a tough fight to hang on to power due to a scandal surrounding sovereign wealth fund 1MDB and a challenge from veteran ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92.
Mr Najib's long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition is nevertheless tipped to win the May 9 poll due to a weakened opposition and alleged vote-rigging, according to his critics.
Candidates seeking to contest the election registered across the country, with electoral authorities due to confirm if they can run before the 11-day campaign officially begins. There are 222 parliamentary seats up for grabs.
Mr Najib, dressed in dark blue traditional Malay dress, registered his candidacy in his constituency of Pekan, in Pahang state, which he has held since 1976.
His supporters gathered and sang the national anthem, while waving blue banners - the colour of the ruling coalition - that read "we choose BN".
"He has developed our country, developed an Islamic nation, race and country," supporter Azizah Abdul Aziz told AFP.
On the holiday island of Langkawi in northwest Malaysia, Dr Mahathir - who was premier for 22 years - arrived at a local government office to register his candidacy, wearing bright red Malay dress and a traditional black cap.
Outside about 5,000 backers of the opposition coalition he is heading, Pact of Hope, waved flags and chanted.
"Mahathir can help reboot this country," supporter Aziah Mohamad Nasir told AFP.
"Prime Minister Najib has destroyed justice, there is no rule of law." Dr Mahathir has joined forces with the opposition as their prime ministerial candidate due to the 1MDB scandal, in a stunning volte-face which has seen him throw in his lot with parties he crushed while in power.
Billions of dollars were allegedly stolen from 1MDB - which was set up and overseen by Mr Najib - in a campaign of fraud and money-laundering, with American authorities claiming it was used to buy high-end real estate and artwork in the United States.
Mr Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing, but the controversy has only added to BN's problems after years of falling popularity driven by official corruption, divisive racial politics in the multi-ethnic country and anger at rising living costs.
The leader is under pressure to score an emphatic win after BN, which has led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, lost the popular vote for the first time at the 2013 election.