Unofficial Malaysia election tally shows swing to opposition

Hugh Fox
May 10, 2018

As well as seizing control of the national government, several state legislatures across the country fell into opposition hands for the first time, including the highly symbolic bastion of Johor, the birthplace of Najib's party that was the lynchpin of the ruling coalition.

Malaysians flocked to vote in elections which pit an opposition led by former authoritarian leader Mahathir Mohamad against the ruling coalition of sullied Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Under the country's electoral system, the party with a simple majority of seats in the 222-member parliament will form the next government. Most experts believe that is within Najib's reach despite allegations of kleptocracy in a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal that have dogged him since 2015.

Najib, who was chairman of 1MDB's advisory board, has denied any wrongdoing and has been cleared of any offense by Malaysia's attorney general.

"I think right now, it looks more favourable to BN...however, the margin that we're talking about is very small", said Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, a Malaysia scholar at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

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With almost 15 million registered voters, polls opened at 00:00 GMT on Wednesday across the country and closed at 09:00 GMT.

The center's program director Ibrahim Suffian says turnout may be about 80 percent or in the high 70s after the Election Commission said it was 69 percent as of 3 p.m.

Long lines are forming at polling booths in Kuala Lumpur and other cities as voting begins in Malaysia's general election.

"I hope personally and maybe people share my thoughts, we hope for some kind of change that will bring prosperity to our country", Zulkifli Bin Mat Saad, a voter, told Al Jazeera. Najib told supporters: "We are not a party of the past, we do not play with retired leaders".

Mahathir's alliance, which counts on urban votes and support from the minority ethnic-Chinese and Indian communities, hoped that with the Malay veteran leader as its standard bearer it would draw in voters traditionally loyal to BN.

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In a news conference just before midnight, opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad claimed results were being delayed due to a looming victory by his coalition. "Our campaign workers are also affected".

A survey released by pollster Merdeka Center last week showed the opposition making gains, but not enough to land a majority of parliamentary seats.

Unless he improves on that tally, Najib could come under pressure within his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party to stand aside ahead of the next election, analysts say.

Such an opposition victory would be unprecedented in Malaysia, where BN has ruled for 61 years.

However, political analysts believe PAS will fall short of the 21 seats it won in 2013.

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Mahathir has a reputation as an authoritarian, but is still a huge figure in the country.

The race has been fiercely contested, and the opposition alliance has gained ground in recent weeks as Mahathir, who ruled with an iron fist for 22 years, chipped away at the government's key support base, the Muslim Malay majority.

Anwar led the opposition in the 2008 and 2013 polls.

"The person who has made this happen is Mahathir".

In Najib's favour, ethnic Malays support BN for affirmative-action policies that give them government contracts, cheap housing and guaranteed university admissions.

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Mr Najib himself has been embroiled in a corruption scandal which saw him accused of pocketing some $700m from the 1Malaysian Development Berhad, a state investment fund.

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