Malaysian politicians Saturday began formal campaigning for May 5
general elections that will determine if Prime Minister Najib Razak's
governing coalition can extend nearly 56 years of unbroken rule amid a
resurgent opposition that accuses it of corruption and authoritarianism.
Election candidates submitted nomination papers at
their home constituencies, paving the way for the start of a 15-day
campaigning period. Najib, escorted by dozens of supporters waving party
flags, submitted his nomination papers in Pekan in central Pahang
state. His rival Anwar Ibrahim is running in northern Penang state, one
of four states controlled by the opposition.
About 13.3 million Malaysians will be eligible to cast ballots to fill
222 seats in the federal Parliament and choose representatives for 12
"It will be a close fight.
Anwar's opposition alliance has shown to the public in the last five
years that they can be a credible alternative to the National Front,"
said James Chin, political science lecturer with Monash University in
Anwar's three-party People's Alliance
currently holds slightly more than one-third of Parliament's seats and
controls four of Malaysia's 13 states after the National Front endured
its worst electoral results ever in 2008 polls amid public discontent
about corruption and racial discrimination.
Najib, who is seeking his first mandate at the polls since taking power
in 2009, has portrayed himself as a reformer. He has taken steps to
revamp his government's image, including abolishing security laws widely
considered repressive, implementing economic programs to woo investment
and offering better public welfare including financial handouts for
civil servants and the poor. The economy grew 5-6 percent annually in
the last three years.
To boost the National
Front's appeal, one third of the candidates running for parliament seats
are new. A number of long-serving ministers including several
scandal-tainted officials have been dropped, including Tourism Minister
Ng Yen Yen and former Women's Affairs Minister Shahrizat Jalil who have
been accused of corruption.