Malaysians vote in closely-contested election

Eighty per cent of Malaysian voters today cast their ballot in what is seen as a knife-edge election contest with one of the world's longest-serving governments that has been in power for almost six decades under threat from a resurgent opposition.

Malaysians waited with bated breath as polling closed at 5pm (local time) to find out if the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), which has governed uninterrupted for 56 years, will continue or cede power to the popular opposition alliance.

Eighty per cent of the 12.99 million registered voters cast their votes in Malaysia's general elections held across the country. All 8,245 voting centres were closed at 5 pm (local time), the Election Commission said.

Counting of ballots began in Malaysia immediately after voting ended and the first results were expected to be announced soon.

Incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak is confident that the BN coalition will remain Malaysia's dominant political force.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's three-party alliance is also confident of taking over Putrajaya, the administrative capital.

The BN had held 135 seats in the 222-member Parliament that was dissolved last month.

If the opposition wins, it would mark a remarkable comeback for Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who was kicked out of the ruling UMNO Malay party in 1998 by the then premier Mahathir Mohammad and subsequently jailed on corruption and sodomy charges.

He was released from jail in 2004 and now leads the biggest threat to the BN. "We stand today on the brink of history," Anwar said in a statement.

"Sunday's election will mark the decisive step in an amazing, peaceful, democratic revolution that will take Malaysia into a new era," he said.

The country's 29 million people includes 60 per cent Malays who are all Muslims, 25 per cent ethnic Chinese who are mostly Christians and Buddhists and eight per cent ethnic Indians who are mostly Hindus.
The last polls had seen a huge swathe of ethnic Indians supporting the opposition alliance.

An independent survey showed the ruling coalition was running neck and neck with the opposition alliance.

The opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) led by Ibrahim has unveiled a 100-day roadmap including waiving all higher education loans, and abolishing highway tolls if voted to power.

The ruling coalition is dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and led by Prime Minister Razak and also includes Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).
A total of 1,900 candidates, 579 contesting for parliamentary seats and 1,321 state seats were contesting for 222 parliamentary and 505 state seats.

Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, cast their votes at a centre in a local school in Pekan in the East Coast state of Pahang. Najib is defending his Pekan parliamentary seat.

The prime minister said the presence of local and foreign observers proved the transparency of the electoral process, and it should not be disputed by anyone unless those who would want to try to make it an issue.

Speaking to reporters after casting his vote, Najib said, "There is no reason why he is not satisfied because we had gone through a very lengthy process involving many quarters, including the opposition."

On reports of certain quarters might create havoc if the election results were not in their favour, the Prime Minister said: "This will tarnish Malaysia's image. As Malaysians, despite our political differences, we must protect the country's image and dignity. Let the electoral process runs smoothly and everybody must accept the results."

The oldest candidate is 94-year-old Maimum Yusuf who is contesting as an independent for Kuala Terengganu parliamentary seat on the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Campaigning has been dotted with many reports of violence, arson and two small explosions.

Eighteen international observers from Asia including representatives from ASEAN Secretariat have been invited by the government.

Also, for the first time in the country's history indelible blue ink is being used on voters.

Eight police reports were lodged during the election by voters claiming that the indelible ink applied to their fingers after voting could be washed off easily.

Election Commission chairman Abdul Aziz Yusof said the ink could have been easily washed off as it was thinly applied.

"I think it is not the ink that would not last as expected but the process...the way it was applied on the fingers. Nevertheless, we will investigate the reports," he was quoted as saying.

His deputy Wan Ahmad Wan Omar said the ink should have been applied in several layers to ensure its effectiveness. Allegations of "phantom voters" were merely strategies to discredit Election Commission credibility, he said.

Meanwhile, budget airline AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes has denied that his airline had flown in foreigners to vote, saying that he had personally checked flight manifests.

"Every person who came on the flight was a Malaysian, mostly from Sabah state. No foreigners. No naturalised foreigners," he said.

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