Malaysia's scandal-hit PM faces ex-mentor, 92, in election

Arturo Kim
May 10, 2018

The contest pits Najib, a political blue blood, against his former political mentor, Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister for 22 years until 2003 and credited with modernizing Malaysia.

Official results from the Election Commission showed that Mahathir's opposition grouping Pakatan Harapan, along with an ally in the Borneo state of Sabah, had secured 115 parliamentary seats.

Most experts believe that is within Najib's reach despite allegations of kleptocracy in a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal that have dogged him since 2015.

Dirty tricks are a regular feature of Malaysian elections.

The decision to set the vote during the middle of the week was seen as discouraging millions of Malaysians living overseas from returning home to vote. Facebook groups were set up to coordinate the hand-delivery of precious postal votes by returning expats which may otherwise not have made it back in time. "I think the people have been complacent for too long. The city is ready, the kampungs [villages] they are the ones not ready".

Ibrahim says the decision to hold the election midweek is probably the main factor in turnout falling from 2013 as some people wouldn't have been able to make it hometowns to vote, particularly among the half million Malaysians who work in neighboring Singapore.

"I can tell you it's fake news, fake information".

Najib showed reporters a finger stained in purple ink after voting and then greeted supporters. We learnt that Barisan Nasional had been involved in money politics.

Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad claimed that the opposition alliance he leads had won enough parliament seats in Wednesday's general election to form the next government.

Najib's other formidable opponent is former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is now serving a five-year prison sentence on a sodomy conviction that has been attacked by human rights groups as politically motivated. Polling booths close at 5 p.m.

Amid escalating anger over a massive financial scandal, Mahathir came out of retirement to take on his former protégé Najib, upending an election race that had long looked like an easy win for the government.

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Many still remember him fondly as a champion of the Muslim majority and father of modern Malaysia and the architect of policies that transformed a sleepy Southeast Asian backwater into a relatively affluent country.

"In Malaysia, these changes were proposed and implemented by the independent Election Commission and subsequently approved by the judiciary, whose impartiality is evidenced by the fact that it frequently rules against the government and senior ministers", the statement said.

"The current government is ok".

On the ground in Titiwangsa, Barisan Nasional's superior resources are obvious everywhere.

"I have received reports from voting centres that many voters are gathered outside polling stations and that the process was moving quite slowly", he said.

After polls closed earlier in the day, journalists had flocked to the headquarters of Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the lynchpin in the ruling coalition - but he failed to turn up to give a victory speech and the media were told to leave.

If the opposition manages what was nearly unthinkable a decade ago and claims government on Wednesday, Malaysians will then await the answer to the next question.

"People can go to the Haj sponsored by 1MDB, every year".

James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta.

"Our political base is still strong and intact". He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.

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