Voting gets underway in Malaysia after hotly-contested campaign | Election News

People began queuing before polling stations opened, despite storms and drizzle, as three main coalitions vied for power.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Polls have opened in Malaysia in an election likely to decide the pace of reform in the Southeast Asian nation over the next five years.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob called the election early in a bid to restore “stability” to Malaysia after three prime ministers in almost as many years.

Ismail Sabri’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which is dominated by his UMNO party, is hoping to secure a simple majority of the 222 seats in the lower house of parliament known as the Dewan Rakyat. But it is facing a stiff challenge from Pakatan Harapan, which won the last election in May 2018, and Perikatan Nasional, which emerged out of that government’s collapse.

Voters began arriving well before polling stations opened at 8am (00:00 GMT) local time, with queues forming early. Polling continues until 6pm (10:00 GMT) with a result expected in the early hours.

Queues were seen outside polling stations in Kuala Lumpur and the southern city of Johor Bahru as a dawn thunderstorm gave way to overcast skies and drizzle.

“There seems to be a quiet determination among the people to vote,” Thomas Fann, chairman of BERSIH, a civil society group that campaigns for free and fair elections told Al Jazeera.

Going into election day, analysts said the result was too close to call and made more complex by the presence of some six million new voters following the implementation of automatic registration. Some 1.4 million voters are young people aged between 18 and 20 who can vote for the first time.

People started queuing early outside polling stations across Malaysia. The prime minister, who came to power amid political in-fighting, is hoping voters will give his Barisan Nasional coalition a mandate to lead the country for the next five years [Vincent Thian/AP Photo]

Campaigning in the The past few days have been intense, with candidates holding informal chats with voters, walkabouts and larger rallies known as ceramah. Malaysians have appeared more ambivalent about the election than they were in 2018 and analysts say as many as a third of people had still to make up their minds in the final week of campaigning.

Pakatan’s win in 2018 marked the first time the opposition had won power in Malaysia’s 60 years as an independent nation and reflected public anger at the multibillion-dollar scandal at 1MDB – a state fund supposedly set up to drive development.

Then Prime Minister Najib Razak is now in prison, after being convicted in the first of five trials related to the fund.

UMNO’s president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is also on trial for corruption and is widely thought to have pressured Ismail Sabri into holding the election early, and during the rainy season.

Civil servant Adilla, who preferred only to share her first name, said “stability” was important for her after the recent succession of governments and prime ministers, and that development needed to be spread beyond the cities to more rural areas.

Voting in western Kuala Lumpur, the 38-year-old said she had first thought it was important to choose a coalition over the individual candidate but then decided the representative was important as well.

“I want someone who has a voice and can make a change,” she told Al Jazeera.

Another voter said he had cast his ballot because it was his duty.

“If you don’t choose, don’t complain,” said the 40-year-old finance worker who declined to share his full name.

Voting is also taking place in three states where BN formed the government.

A man pushes a voter in a wheelchair into a polling station in Kuala Lumpur with police officers standing at the entrance and a queue of voters to the left
Kuala Lumpur was deluged in a dawn thunderstorm, but voters came out despite the drizzle and overcast skies [Kate Mayberry/Al Jazeera]

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