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Asia

Last-ditch campaigning on eve of tense Malaysian vote

Politicians in Malaysia have made a final push for votes ahead of Sunday's general election, which is expected to be a tight race. Polls put the long-ruling coalition neck-and-neck with the opposition alliance.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (C) waves a national flag as he sings patriotic songs with supporters during an election campaign rally in Rawang, outside Kuala Lumpur in this April 28, 2013 file picture. Boasting a fast-growing economy and riding a $2.6 billion deluge of government handouts to poorer voters, Najib would seem to have the recipe for electoral success on Sunday. Instead he faces what some say is a class war between aspiring young Malays and ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities against the rich, powerful and long-ruling Malay elite. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad/Files (MALAYSIA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS BUSINESS)

Malyasia Wahlen Premierminister Najib Razak 28.04.2013

The elections on Sunday are the first in which the only government Malaysia has known in its 56 years of independence faces possible defeat.

A survey released on Friday by the Merkeda Center for Opinion Research showed the opposition Pakatan Rakyat three-party alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, 1 percentage point ahead of Prime Minister Najib Razak's National Front coalition (Barisan Nasional). It predicted the opposition could win up to 89 seats in the 222-member parliament, with the ruling coalition expected to take 85 seats.

Two seats would go to smaller parties, while 46 were too close to call and were therefore up for grabs, according to the survey.

The bitter election campaign has seen Najib warning of ethnic strife and chaos under the opposition, which itself has hit back with allegations of government vote fraud. If the opposition does win, it will prove a commanding comeback for former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar, who was sacked in 1998 in a power struggle and jailed on corruption and sodomy charges, which he says were trumped-up.

Since his release in 2004, Anwar, previously seen as Barisan's heir-apparent, has added his star power to the weak opposition, which has enjoyed a surge in prominence.

In 2008, Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) won more than a third of the seats in parliament and gained control of several states, a huge blow to Barisan.

In a televised interview on Friday, Najib appealed to voters for a "strong mandate" to implement reforms. His ethnic Malay-dominated Barisan regime has held power for decades, but anger is rising in the country over controversial policies favoring Malays, as well as authoritarian tactics. He has also been accused of hiding corruption.

"Definitely, with a strong mandate, we can do much better in the next five years," said Najib.

On Saturday, Anwar released a 100-day roadmap for his alliance, promising to investigate major corruption, free up Malaysia's media and lower petrol prices.

Warnings of voter fraud

On Saturday, a Malaysian election monitor group the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (known as Bersih) warned of fraud in the polls, saying voters were being transported to polling stations.

"Tens of thousands of alleged voters are being flown and bused to key battleground states and constituencies," it said.

According to election commission chief Abdul Aziz Yusof, it is not an offense to pay for the travel expenses of voters, so long as they were not instructed which way to vote.

The secretary of the National Front, Adnan Mansor, admitted that its allies had organized chartered flights, but said they were not so-called unregistered 'phantom voters.'

"The flights in question were organized and paid for by Friends of Barisan Nasional. They brought registered voters to their home so they may vote in the upcoming election," said Mansor.

He countered that the opposition had chartered buses to transport voters back from Singapore, and that Bersih itself "has paid for Malaysians to fly back from Shanghai and Hong Kong."

Police say they will take action if they are informed by election commission officers that unregistered voters are trying to take part.

Online attacks

Some online media outlets are worried they will be targeted in internet attacks that filter content or access to websites, hindering voter access to independent reporting. Most traditional media is owned by interests linked to Barisan Nasional.

"During the 2008 election we were wiped off the internet," said Premesh Chandran, chief of the independent online news provider Malaysiakini.

"Our concern is that we'll see a repeat of that on May 5. Can we really live without independent media on election night, given that both sides might not accept the result?"

jr/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)