Voters cast ballots in Malaysia’s most politically significant election in years, as corruption scandals ensnared government officials and opposition parties made gains in the Muslim-majority country where 1.3 million jobs are at stake.
A rival coalition of predominantly ethnic Chinese and Indians won five seats and looked likely to clinch a governing majority in the opposition-run Selangor state, capital of the country’s wealthiest state. That could cause the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which is dominated by the mostly Muslim Malays, to lose its parliamentary majority for the first time in a quarter century.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who came to power in 2009 and whose government is under investigation for billions of dollars allegedly siphoned from state investment fund 1MDB, was not the hot-button issue in the election, which is taking place amid a brewing political crisis.
But it is Najib who faces criticism and calls for his resignation for the 1MDB scandal, which has also plagued former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan coalition. They say Najib orchestrated an international affair centered on U.S. money-laundering to cover up for the theft of billions of dollars. Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
The race is mainly about race and ideology, pitting the biggest ethnic Chinese community in the country against the mostly indigenous Malays. Selangor has been a pillar of support for the BN coalition.
In the three-candidate race in Malacca state, Barisan Nasional is expected to win big, polls showed. The Pakatan Harapan coalition trails after a local leader was convicted of corruption.
Local media estimated that BN had won at least 55 of the 135 parliamentary seats in Selangor in the May 9 general election, that polled 100 of the state’s 222 seats. Most of those seats are held by Barisan Nasional.
Pakatan Harapan could wrest control of one or two more seats, most of them held by Barisan Nasional, but has not done so yet, an opinion poll showed.
“Whether the opposition captures Selangor state governorship and claims to have a grip on the political landscape of this country remains to be seen,” said Liew Chin Tong, the public affairs director for the democratic reform group Bersih.
“The lingering specter of corruption scandals, arrests and prosecutions of opposition leaders on trumped-up charges, hurdles posed by state security and intelligence agencies, and power’s intimidation of the public, are among the disturbing incidents that the candidates have experienced,” he said.
Bersih is pushing for full access to the media for all candidates and governments, amendments to the electoral law to implement universal suffrage, greater open debate by opposition parties and independent experts, and adequate independent electoral commissions.
Azer Zahid, who heads an independent democratic watchdog group called Bersih, said a big win for the opposition would “stamp out this corrupt government.”
Voters must still cast ballots in 26 parliamentary and 14 state seats in Singapore, where the government is defending a six-seat majority in the 99-seat parliament.
The voting ended Tuesday night. Voters have until Wednesday to return their ballots.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.
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