Voters cast their ballots in Malaysia’s leading state election
Malacca – Masked voters cast their ballots on Saturday in a Malaysian state election between Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaqoub’s Malay party and its allies in the government for the first time amid a widening rift.
The poll in the southern state of Malacca is seen as pioneering voting behavior that can form political alliances in the national elections, which will not be scheduled until 2023 but are widely expected to be held next year.
The state poll will see three-way fighting between a camp led by Ismail’s United Malaysian National Organization, or UMNO, and another by the two allied parties Bersatu and PAS, and the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim.
There is a row between UMNO and Bersatu, the two largest parties in the ruling coalition, but they have agreed to share power until the next general election.
Voters queued, one meter apart, outside schools and other polling stations to have their temperature checked before being allowed to cast ballots for the 28 state assembly members. 112 candidates compete, leading to tight races for all seats. About half a million people are entitled to vote until 5:30 pm (0930 GMT).
The Malacca elections were called after the state government led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) collapsed when four MPs withdrew their support. The victory would be a boost for UMNO, which has led Malaysia since its independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted by Anwar’s reformist coalition in the 2018 elections amid a multibillion-dollar financial scandal.
But Anwar’s alliance collapsed last year after Muhyiddin Yassin withdrew from his Bersatu party and formed a new government with the United Malaysian National Organization (UMNO), the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and several other parties. But Muhyiddin was forced to resign in August after infighting cost him the support of the majority. Then Ismail, who was Muhyiddin’s deputy, took office, and restored the rule of the UMNO.
Most observers believe that the main battle is between UMNO and Anwar’s opposition coalition because Bersatu lacks popular power.
Analysts said a big win for Omno could lead to challenges in Bersatu’s ruling party states, speeding up plans to call an early general election and could prompt PAS and other Bersatu-supporting parties to review their alliance.
Campaigns in Malacca, about a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, have been silenced amid strict rules as the country emerged from a virus lockdown last month after a successful vaccination launch. Political rallies, rallies and home visits were banned, taking the campaign to social media and making the results unpredictable.
The polls come as Malaysia is gradually reopening its borders to vaccinated travelers. The country has vaccinated more than 76% of its population, including most adults. Daily infections have fallen dramatically to about 6,000 from a peak of more than 20,000 in August. The country recorded 2.57 million cases and nearly 30,000 deaths.
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