Malaysians vote in closely-contested election

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Kuala Lumpur, May 5: Eighty per cent of Malaysian voters today cast their ballot in what is seen as a knife-edge election contest with one of the world's longest-serving governments that has been in power for almost six decades under threat from a resurgent opposition.

Malaysians waited with bated breath as polling closed at 5pm (local time) to find out if the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), which has governed uninterrupted for 56 years, will continue or cede power to the popular opposition alliance.

Eighty per cent of the 12.99 million registered voters cast their votes in Malaysia's general elections held across the country.

All 8,245 voting centres were closed at 5 pm (local time), the Election Commission said.

Counting of ballots began in Malaysia immediately after voting ended and the first results were expected to be announced soon.

Incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak is confident that the BN coalition will remain Malaysia's dominant political force.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's three-party alliance is also confident of taking over Putrajaya, the administrative capital.

The BN had held 135 seats in the 222-member Parliament that was dissolved last month. If the opposition wins, it would mark a remarkable comeback for Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who was kicked out of the ruling UMNO Malay party in 1998 by the then premier Mahathir Mohammad and subsequently jailed on corruption and sodomy charges.

He was released from jail in 2004 and now leads the biggest threat to the BN.

"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," he said.

The country's 29 million people includes 60 per cent Malays who are all Muslims, 25 per cent ethnic Chinese who are mostly Christians and Buddhists and eight per cent ethnic Indians who are mostly Hindus.

The last polls had seen a huge swathe of ethnic Indians supporting the opposition alliance. An independent survey showed the ruling coalition was running neck and neck with the opposition alliance.

PTI

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