Record voter turnout in Malaysia marks tense election | News | DW | 05.05.2013
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Record voter turnout in Malaysia marks tense election

Polling stations have closed in Malaysia with a record voter turnout that could see the long-ruling coalition ousted after nearly 56 years in power. Preliminary results are expected shortly.

Polling stations closed Sunday at 5 p.m. local time (0900 GMT) with a record 80 percent voter turnout, deputy elections commissioner Ahmad Omar said. First results are expected shortly.

More than 10.6 million of the 13.3 million eligible voters cast their vote for 222 parliamentary seats and 505 state seats, in what was the first postcolonial election in which the incumbent National Front coalition (Barisan Nasional) has faced a genuine challenge.

A survey released on Friday by the Merkeda Center for Opinion Research showed the opposition just 1 percentage point ahead of incumbant Prime Minister Najib Razak's long ruling ethnic-Malay Barisan regime. The party has held power for decades, but anger is rising in the country over controversial policies favoring Malays, as well as authoritarian tactics and corruption.

The opposition's Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) three-party alliance is led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. If the opposition wins, it would prove a huge comeback for Anwar, who was sacked in 1998 in a power struggle and jailed on corruption and sodomy charges, which he says were fabricated by his enemies.

Since his 2004 release, Anwar has added his star power to the opposition, and in 2008, his party won more than a third of the seats in parliament and gained control of several states, a huge blow to Barisan.

"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."

Warnings of voter fraud

The opposition had alleged several irregularities in the vote including a charge that tens of thousands of "dubious" voters were flown to key constituencies to sway results.

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.”

He countered that the opposition had chartered buses to transport voters back from Singapore, and that election monitor group the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections "has paid for Malaysians to fly back from Shanghai and Hong Kong."

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?"

hc/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)