Updated: Sat, 04 May 2013 07:23:08 GMT | By Agence France-Presse

Rivals hit home stretch in tense Malaysia polls

Malaysia's bitter political rivals launched a last-ditch campaign sprint Saturday on the eve of the first elections in the country's history in which the long-ruling regime faces possible defeat.


Rivals hit home stretch in tense Malaysia polls

Supporters wave party flags at a huge opposition rally in Penang on May 3, 2013. Malaysia's bitter political rivals launched a last-ditch campaign sprint Saturday on the eve of the first elections in the country's history in which the long-ruling regime faces possible defeat.

Malaysian premier Najib Razak and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim barnstormed through their home regions where they will cast their own ballots early Sunday in elections marred by violence and allegations of government vote fraud.

The opposition has set the stage for a possibly destabilising challenge to the results, accusing the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition of attempting to rig the result.

The ethnic Malay-dominated regime has tightly held power in the multi-racial nation since independence in 1957, steering it from a backwater to an economic success.

But its grip is slipping amid rising anger over corruption, controversial policies favouring Malays and authoritarian tactics.

A survey released Friday indicated the result was too close to predict, with Barisan and the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) alliance roughly equal in terms of support but with a large undecided bloc.

"This election is an election of the people fighting oppressive and corrupt rulers," Anwar told a cheering crowd in a campaign stop in northern Malaysia late Friday.

A simple parliamentary majority is enough to form a government.

Its back to the wall, Barisan has launched an all-out blitz with Najib warning of "chaos" if Pakatan wins while the nation's government-controlled newspapers have been full of harsh attacks on Pakatan across front pages.

In a nationally televised interview late Friday, Najib appealed to voters for a "strong mandate" so he can implement his promises of reform.

"Definitely, with a strong mandate, we can do much better in the next five years," he said.

But in a further ominous sign for Barisan, the charismatic Anwar has drawn massive crowds on the stump, including late Friday when tens of thousands of supporters swamped the capital of the opposition-held northern state of Penang.

But opposition leaders and activists have warned the election could be "stolen" by Barisan, which has a history of alleged voter fraud in past polls.

"The most critical elections in Malaysia's history are likely to be stolen from the people with a series of fraudulent moves on the eve of polling day", said a statement by Bersih, a clean-polls NGO coalition that has organised huge electoral-reform rallies.

Last week it was learned that indelible ink meant to mark voters' fingers to prevent multiple voting could be washed off.

The opposition said Thursday that Barisan was chartering planes to fly tens of thousands of "dubious" voters into pivotal areas.

The government acknowledged the flights but called them part of a "get out the vote" drive.

Violence also has raised tensions, though no deaths have been reported.

In the latest incident, an explosive device detonated at a power substation near the Kuala Lumpur headquarters of Anwar's party late Friday, causing minor damage, a party official said.

Anwar was Barisan's heir-apparent until a 1998 power struggle saw him jailed for six years on sex and graft charges widely criticised as trumped up.

Anwar promises a more transparent government and an end to cozy ties between business and the powerful ruling elite.

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