People began lining up before polling stations opened, despite strong winds and heavy rain, as three major unions bid for power.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – The polls are open in Malaysia for an election that will decide the direction of Southeast Asia for the next five years.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob called an early election to restore “peace” to Malaysia after three prime ministers in almost as many years.
Ismail Sabri’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which is controlled by his party UMNO, hopes to secure a majority of 222 seats in the lower house of parliament known as the Dewan Rakyat. But he is facing a serious challenge from Pakatan Harapan, who won the last election in May 2018, and Perikatan Nasional, which emerged from the fall of the government.
Voters began arriving well before polling stations opened at 8am (00:00 GMT) local time, and queues started early. Voting continues until 6pm (10:00 GMT) and results are expected early.
Queues were seen outside polling stations in Kuala Lumpur and the southern city of Johor Bahru as thunderstorms began to fall and the skies darkened.
“There seems to be a determination among people to vote,” Thomas Fann, chairman of BERSIH, a group of people who organize free and fair elections told Al Jazeera.
By election day, pollsters said the results were close to impossible and made even more difficult by the presence of nearly 6 million new voters after registration. About 1.4 million voters are young people between the ages of 18 and 20 who can vote for the first time.
Campaigning in the past few days has been intense, with candidates holding informal meetings with voters, traveling and mass meetings known as ceramah. Malaysians appear to be more uncertain about the election than they were in 2018 and experts say nearly a third of the public have made up their minds in the final week of campaigning.
Pakatan’s victory in 2018 was the first opposition victory in Malaysia’s 60 years as an independent nation and reflected public anger over the multi-billion scandal over 1MDB – a sovereign wealth fund allegedly set up to support development.
Then Prime Minister Najib Razak is now in prison, having been found guilty of the first five counts related to the fund.
UMNO President Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is also accused of corruption and is believed to have forced Ismail Sabri to hold the election early, and during the rainy season.
The government minister, Adilla, who preferred to share his first name, said that “stabilization” was important to him after the recent succession of governments and prime ministers, and that development should spread across the cities to more rural areas.
Voting in the west of Kuala Lumpur, the 38-year-old said at first he thought it was important to choose a coalition on an individual basis but he thought that a representative was also important.
“I want someone who has a voice and can make a difference,” he told Al Jazeera.
Another voter said he voted because it was his job.
“If you don’t choose, don’t worry,” said a 40-year-old financial worker who declined to give her full name.
Voting is also underway in the three districts where BN formed the government.