Malaysian election campaign is intensifying and the southern state of Johor could provide early indications of voter intentions.
Johor is the birthplace of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence.
Across the country, from Sarawak and Sabah, to Penang and Johor and places in between, candidates are out campaigning and fighting for every last vote.
Experts agree Malaysia has never seen an election like this, with BN under real pressure to prove its relevance to voters.
BN figures say the party is quietly confident but admit the Opposition has put up its best fight yet and is more organised this time around.
Pollsters say it is too close to call.
Prime Minister Najib Razak is urging continuity in Malaysia.
“Our message to the people is look we have done so much over the last 4 years, if you give us the mandate I assure you we will do even better the next 5 years,” he said.
On social media, Mr Najib has signalled the importance of Johor, where his party is under pressure from the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat.
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he is very encouraged by the upsurge in public mood, telling voters a new awakening is underway in Malaysia.
Thirteen million Malaysians are registered to vote on May 5, 20 per cent of them are voting for the first time.
Cost of living, taxation laws, educational opportunities, health services are all key issues, as is the economic progress of the country and desires for social and political liberalisation.
The ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition is led by Prime Minister Najib Razak. He launched his party’s manifesto “A Promise of Hope” on April 6 which includes a boost in family financial support and policies to address urban pressures with a focus on the country’s economic development.
Prime Minister Najib has opened the door to broadening of BN social policies in response to growing domestic pressure and social change. He is promoting greater involvement of women in the coalition and recognising that young Malaysians are wanting more freedom.
The manifesto states “Our youth today make up two thirds of the population and their voices cannot and must not be ignored.”
The Prime Minister says only a BN government can ensure Malaysia’s continued economic success.
Prime Minister Najib presided over a closed door party meeting where candidates were being finalised.
“Forming a strong and viable government should be the ultimate objective of all Barisan Nasional members,” he said.
There are tensions within Barisan Nasional over how far and how quickly the party should liberalise.
The Opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) is led by the country’s former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
His coalition includes varied parties in term of ethnic and philosophical make up that come together around cross racial issues.
As a grouping on the federal level they have never had to test how they would operate as a united political outfit with a detailed agreed political platform.
Within the Opposition coalition, Anwar is the leader of the People’s Justice Party (PKR).
Also part of the grouping is the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Malaysia’s oldest opposition party. DAP is a multi racial party with a core constituency that is Malaysian Chinese.
Next is PAS – the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party supporting the Islamisation of political life.
Anwar Ibrahim said on twitter after the election date was announced “This election is not about parties or leaders. It is about the people demanding change in this country.”
In the last election BN faced what locals call an ‘electoral tsunami’ when the Opposition’s support surged in the final days. In that election BN lost its crucial 2/3 majority in Parliament but was returned.
This time according to Dr Amrita Malhi from the Hawke Research Institute at the University of South Australia “it is on a knife edge.”
Speaking from Adelaide she said “anticipation is building, this is the hottest contest people have seen.”
“The way the Opposition is presenting itself is to make sure the election and conduct of national public life are election issues.”
Copyright 2013 by Australian Network News