Petaling Jaya (Malaysia) (AFP) – A prominent Malaysian rights activist Tuesday announced her candidacy in upcoming polls in what analysts see as a boost for the opposition’s attempt to unseat Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Speculation has been rife that Najib will call elections within weeks as his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition inches closer to the end of its five-year term.
Najib is seeking a fresh mandate after being hounded by an international corruption scandal related to Malaysian state fund 1MDB in which he has denied any wrongdoing.
Maria Chin Abdullah, 62, head of the election reform group Bersih (Clean) that led major street rallies against Najib in recent years, said she would stand as an independent but under the banner of the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan.
The coalition is led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who has come out of retirement to mount the challenge to Najib.
Chin was arrested ahead of a protest march in 2016 but was freed after ten days in police detention.
She is the latest high-profile civil society figure in Malaysia to join the electoral bandwagon after Wan Saiful Wan Jan, a former think-tank head who joined Mahathir’s Bersatu party last week.
Some analysts said they expect more civil society activists to stand under the opposition banner.
“They’re joining because there’s a real chance now for Barisan Nasional to be defeated,” said University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director James Chin, who is not related to the activist.
Other analysts however have said it would not be easy to unseat the ruling party due to unfavourable electoral boundary changes and divisions within the opposition coalition.