Malaysian rulers could face first postcolonial defeat | News | DW | 05.05.2013
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Malaysian rulers could face first postcolonial defeat

Millions of Malaysians have voted in the country's first postcolonial election in which the decades-old regime faces a genuine challenge. Preliminary results are expected within hours.

Polling stations closed Sunday at 5 p.m. local time (0900 GMT) with millions of Malaysians having cast their votes. First results are expected within hours.

A survey released on Friday by the Merkeda Center for Opinion Research showed the opposition Pakatan Rakyat three-party alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, 1 percentage point ahead of Prime Minister Najib Razak's National Front coalition (Barisan Nasional).

"Definitely, with a strong mandate, we can do much better in the next five years," Najib said in an appeal to retain power.

Polls predict the opposition's picking up 89 seats in the 222-member parliament, with Barisan's coalition taking 85. Two seats would go to smaller parties, and 46 remain too close to call, according to the survey.

Najib's ethnic-Malay Barisan regime has held power for decades, but anger is rising in the country over controversial policies favoring Malays, as well as authoritarian tactics. He has also been accused of hiding corruption.

The prime minister warned of chaos should his coalition lose. If the opposition wins, it would prove a comeback for former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar, who was sacked in 1998 in a power struggle and jailed on corruption and sodomy charges, which he says were invented.

Since his 2004 release, Anwar has added his star power to the weak opposition, which has enjoyed a surge in prominence. In 2008, Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) won more than a third of the seats in parliament and gained control of several states, a huge blow to Barisan.

Warnings of voter fraud

The monitors Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (known as Bersih) warned of fraud, announcing that voters were being transported to polling stations.

According to election commission chief Abdul Aziz Yusof, however, it is not an offense to pay for the electorate's travel expenses of voters, so long as citizens are not instructed which way to vote. The secretary of the National Front, Adnan Mansor, admitted that its allies had organized chartered flights, but said they were not so-called unregistered "phantom voters. "

"The flights in question were organized and paid for by Friends of Barisan Nasional," Mansor said. "They brought registered voters to their home so they may vote in the upcoming election."

Potential recourse

Mansor said that the opposition had chartered buses to transport voters back from Singapore, and that Bersih itself "has paid for Malaysians to fly back from Shanghai and Hong Kong."

Police say they will take action if they are informed by election commission officers that unregistered voters are trying to take part.

Some online media outlets are worried they will be targeted in Internet attacks that filter content or access to websites, hindering voter access to independent reporting. Most traditional media is owned by interests linked to Barisan Nasional.

"During the 2008 election, we were wiped off the Internet," said Premesh Chandran, chief of the independent online news provider Malaysiakini. "Our concern is that we'll see a repeat of that on May 5. Can we really live without independent media on election night, given that both sides might not accept the result?"

mkg/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)