The election is expected to see stiff competition for new voters as 5 million names have been added to voter lists.
Campaigning has formally started for Malaysia’s general elections, a highly competitive race that will see the world’s longest-serving coalition seeking to regain its dominance four years after a shocking electoral loss.
Campaigns began on Saturday for the November 19 election, which will determine if the Barisan Nasional (BN), or National Front, coalition can make a strong comeback or whether political reformers can secure another surprise win that will see their leader, Anwar Ibrahim, achieve a long-held 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.
The election victory sparked hopes of reform in Malaysia but was short-lived as defections caused the PH government to crumble in early 2020 and brought UMNO back to power.
Malaysia has had three prime ministers since the 2018 election.
Scores of candidates, including Anwar and 97-year-old, two-time former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, submitted their nomination papers at their constituencies on Saturday, paving the way for the start of a 14-day campaigning period.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, from UMNO, registered to defend his seat in central Pahang state.
Anwar, escorted by drummers and supporters waving party flags, filed his nomination in Tambun in central Pekan state.
More than 21 million Malaysians will cast ballots to fill 222 seats in the federal parliament and choose representatives for three state legislatures.
“The general consensus is that the old ruling party Barisan Nasional will do very well and it is very likely that the only other coalition that can challenge BN is Pakatan Harapan,” said James Chin, an Asia expert at Australia’s University of Tasmania.
Analysts said the addition of millions of new voters due to a lower voting age adds to the uncertainty around the outcome, while voter turnout could be affected by bad weather.
Parts of Malaysia have already been affected by floods and the meteorological department has warned severe monsoon rains would start next week, causing flash floods in low-lying areas, as well as by the river and seaside.
The prime minister dissolved parliament on October 10, nine months ahead of schedule, at the behest of UMNO leaders who wanted an early election despite the flooding fears. Spurred by several state victories, UMNO believes it has the upper hand over a fragmented opposition and before an economic slowdown expected next year.
Analysts said the emergence of two new Malay-based political alliances in peninsular Malaysia could, however, split votes among ethnic Malays, who form two-thirds of Malaysia’s 33 million people.
Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi, reporting for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said the election is set to see “fierce competition” among the candidates.
One reason for this is the addition of 6 million names to the country’s voter registration list, Looi said.
“That’s quite a big number considering this is a country of just under 33 million people,” Looi said, explaining that the voting age had been lowered from 21 to 18 years and automatic voter registration implemented.
Parties will be vying for these new votes, she said.
“Analysts say they could be a potential wildcard… As it stands now, no one quite knows how this bloc are going to vote so there is going to be intense competition for their votes.”