GEORGETOWN, MALAYSIA – Malaysia’s bitter political rivals launched a last-ditch campaign sprint Saturday on the eve of the first elections in the country’s history in which the long-ruling regime faces possible defeat.
Prime Minister Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim barnstormed through their home regions, where they will cast their own ballots Sunday in polls marred by violence and allegations of government vote fraud.
The opposition has set the stage for a possibly destabilizing challenge to the results, accusing the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition of attempting to rig the result.
The ethnic Malay-dominated regime has tightly held power in the multiracial nation since independence in 1957, steering it from a backwater to an economic success. But its grip is slipping amid rising anger over corruption, controversial policies favoring Malays and authoritarian tactics.
A survey on Friday indicated the result was too close to predict. A simple parliamentary majority is enough to form a government.
“This election is an election of the people fighting oppressive and corrupt rulers,” Anwar told a cheering crowd in northern Malaysia late Friday.
Its back to the wall, Barisan has launched an all-out blitz with Najib warning of “chaos” if the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) wins while the nation’s government-controlled newspapers have been full of harsh attacks on Pakatan splashed across their front pages.
In a nationally televised interview late Friday, Najib appealed to voters for a “strong mandate” so he can implement his promises of reform. But in a further ominous sign for Barisan, the charismatic Anwar has drawn massive crowds on the stump. Anwar promises a more transparent government and an end to cozy ties between business and the powerful ruling elite.
Opposition leaders and activists, however, have warned the election could be “stolen” by Barisan, which has a history of alleged voter fraud in past polls.
“The most critical elections in Malaysia’s history are likely to be stolen from the people with a series of fraudulent moves on the eve of polling day,” said Bersih, a clean-polls NGO.
Recently it was learned that indelible ink meant to mark voters’ fingers to prevent multiple voting can be washed off. The opposition said Thursday that Barisan plans to charter planes to fly tens of thousands of “dubious” voters into pivotal areas.
Violence also has raised tensions, though no deaths have been reported so far.