PERMATANG PAUH, MALAYSIA – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Saturday kicked off their campaigns for May 5 elections that are likely to be the country’s closest ever.
The two rivals joined hundreds of parliamentary candidates across the nation in submitting nomination papers in their respective constituencies, marking the start of what is expected to be a hard-fought, two-week campaign.
In a blue Malay tunic with a sarong around his waist and wearing a traditional black cap, Najib, 59, handed in documents in his home area on the east coast, where hundreds of government and opposition supporters gathered.
“I am confident that the (ruling coalition) team contesting will transform Malaysia to greater heights,” Najib said on Twitter.
Anwar entered a nomination center in the northern state of Penang as hundreds of supporters shouted the opposition battle cry “Reformasi!” (reform).
“The next two weeks are going to be a tough tumble, especially for the opposition, but, God willing, we can manage,” Anwar, also in traditional garb, told reporters.
Anwar leads a diverse three-party alliance that aims to unseat a coalition controlled by the powerful United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has dominated Malaysia since independence in 1957.
The opposition People’s Pact alliance hopes to build on momentum from 2008 polls in which it tripled its seats in Parliament, taking a third of a chamber long under the grip of the UMNO and its allies.
Under the National Front ruling coalition led by UMNO, resource-rich Malaysia developed into a prosperous economy. But support for the coalition has ebbed amid voter impatience with corruption, rising crime and living costs, and its use of authoritarian tactics and divisive racial politics.
Most of multiethnic Malaysia’s 29 million people are moderate Muslim ethnic Malays who enjoy political supremacy and economic advantages over Chinese, Indian, and other minorities.
“(The National Front) is so corrupt. We want Malaysia to have a good government,” said Zakaria Hashim, a factory worker who waved the flag of Anwar’s party outside the nomination center in his Permatang Pauh constituency.