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Campaign begins for general election on November 19 in Malaysia

The election is expected to feature stiff competition for new voters as 5 million names have been added to the voter rolls.

Malaysia’s general election campaign has formally begun, a highly competitive race in which the world’s longest-serving coalition will seek to regain its dominance four years after a shock electoral defeat.

Campaigning began on Saturday for the November 19 elections, which will determine whether the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, or National Front, can come back in force or if political reformists can secure another surprise victory that will see their leader, Anwar Ibrahim. , achieve a long-standing dream of becoming prime minister.

Led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), BN had ruled Malaysia since the country’s independence from Britain in 1957. But anger over government corruption led the coalition to lose to Anwar’s Pakatan Harapan (PH), or Alliance of Hope, in 2018.

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The electoral victory sparked hopes of reform in Malaysia, but was short-lived as defections caused the PH government to unravel in early 2020 and returned power to the UMNO.

Malaysia has had three prime ministers since the 2018 elections.

Dozens of candidates, including Anwar and 97-year-old two-time former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, filed their nomination papers in their constituencies on Saturday, paving the way for the start of a 14-day campaign period.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of UMNO has registered to defend his seat in the central state of Pahang.

Anwar, escorted by drummers and supporters waving party flags, presented his candidacy in Tambun, in the central state of Pekan.

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More than 21 million Malaysians will vote for 222 seats in the federal parliament and elect representatives to three state legislatures.

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“The general consensus is that the former ruling Barisan Nasional party will do very well and it is very likely that the only other coalition that can challenge the BN is Pakatan Harapan,” said James Chin, an Asia expert at the University of Tasmania in Australia.

Analysts said the addition of millions of new voters due to a lower voting age increases uncertainty about the result, while voter turnout could be affected by bad weather.

Parts of Malaysia have already been hit by floods and the weather department has warned that heavy monsoon rains will start next week, causing flash flooding in low-lying areas as well as the river and the coast.

The prime minister dissolved parliament on October 10, nine months ahead of schedule, at the urging of UMNO leaders who wanted early elections despite fears of flooding. Buoyed by several state victories, the UMNO believes it has the upper hand over a fragmented opposition and ahead of an economic slowdown expected next year.

Analysts said the emergence of two new Malay-based political alliances in Peninsular Malaysia could, however, split the vote among ethnic Malays, who make up two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people.

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Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said the election will see “fierce competition” between candidates.

“One of the reasons for this is that 5 million names have been added to the voter registration list and that’s a pretty big number considering this is a country of just under 33 million people,” Looi said.

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The additional 5 million names are new voters, Looi said, explaining that the voting age has been lowered from 21 to 18 and automatic voter registration has been implemented.

The parties will compete for these new votes, he said.

“Analysts say they could be a potential wild card…As it stands now, no one really knows how this bloc will vote, so there will be intense competition for their votes.”

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