Malaysians begin voting in fiercely contested election

Malaysians begin voting in fiercely contested election
The Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Voting is underway Wednesday in a fiercely contested Malaysian election that pits an opposition led by former authoritarian leader Mahathir Mohamad against the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose image has been battered by corruption allegations and an unpopular goods and services tax.

Polling booths opened at 8 a.m. and long queues had already formed at some voting locations in Kuala Lumpur and other cities. Watched by election officials, voters at a polling station set up at a school in central Kuala Lumpur dipped a finger in purple ink before casting their votes.

Analysts say the ruling National Front, in power since independence from Britain in 1957, might lose the popular vote for a second consecutive election. But it could still win a majority of seats in parliament due to an electoral system that gives more power to rural Malays, its traditional supporters. Voting closes at 5 p.m. and results are expected in the late evening.

Najib, in an election eve appeal to voters, promised income tax exemptions for young people and public holidays if his coalition wins. Mahathir, who was Malaysia’s authoritarian leader for 22 years until 2003, repeated the themes of a campaign that asserted a vote for the opposition would save Malaysia from a corrupt elite.

The 92-year-old Mahathir emerged from political retirement and joined the opposition in attempt to oust Najib, his former protege, after a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at a state investment fund set up by Najib.

About 15 million Malaysians are eligible to vote and the Election Commission has predicted a turnout of 85 percent.

The opposition and election monitoring groups said the commission’s decision to hold the vote midweek was likely to lower turnout and favor the ruling party.