Premier vs. predecessor as 14.4M Malaysians cast votes

People line up to vote during the general election in Alor Setar

People line up to vote during the general election in Alor Setar

The Election Commission sought to tamp down speculation about the outcome, but thousands of supporters of the Southeast Asian country's 92-year-old former leader did not wait to celebrate, cheering and honking horns in central Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier, voters flocked in large numbers to polling stations throughout the day, leading to hours-long queues in many places and prompting complaints from voters and opposition leaders about people potentially missing out on voting.

If Mahathir proves to be correct, it would be the first change in government in 60 years in Malaysia where the ruling coalition has remained in power since independence. The scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib is seeking a third term in office during the May 9 general election, but faces an unprecedented challenge from a rejuvenated opposition led by his former mentor and strongman Mahathir Mohamad.

A controversial fake news law was also recently introduced, which critics say could be used by the authorities to muffle dissent.

"I think right now, it looks more favourable to BN. however, the margin that we're talking about is very small", said Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, a Malaysia scholar at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "It would be a further sign of the region's democratic decline".

The current Prime Minister, Najib, has been embroiled in a multi-billion-dollar government funding scandal. He has denied wrongdoing.

But this once powerful coalition has seen its popularity decline.

"Enough is enough. We want a clean and just government".

Analysts previously said the National Front might lose the popular vote but hold onto a majority in parliament due to an electoral system that gives more power to rural Malays, the party's traditional supporters.

BN has pushed policies that favor Malays over the country's substantial ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, supporting them with financial handouts and priority in securing government jobs.

Dr Mahathir claimed at last count, the pact had captured at least 112 out of the total 222 parliamentary seats.

Najib said the campaign was "quite vicious in the content of the personal attacks which doesn't reflect a mature democracy".

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.

Morning newspaper headlines focused on Najib's election eve promises of tax exemptions for young people, extra public holidays and a five-day break from road tolls if his coalition wins.

"The government declared it as a public holiday, but it is still going to make it quite hard for some people who are working, perhaps in the bigger cities, but are still registered to vote in their hometowns and small areas, who have to travel back to vote", Looi said.

"Instead of fighting for its people, country and religion, Najib believes that trust can be bought with money", he said in his final campaign speech.

About 15 million Malaysians were eligible to vote for both state and federal candidates.

Results are expected late Wednesday evening.

Among the key election issues has been the rising cost of living in the country, with many voters placing blame on the goods and services tax that was imposed three years ago.

Election Commission chairman Mohamad Hashim Abdullah told a news conference, "We see a difference this time in people's desire to vote".

"The most important thing is for people to decide on the destiny of this nation, and it must be based on facts", the 64-year-old told reporters.

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