Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced he will dissolve the parliament Wednesday, paving the way for long-awaited general elections, which according to the analysts’ could be the closest race – between the ruling coalition that has been in power for over five decades and a three-party opposition – in the country’s history.
In a live television broadcast Wednesday morning, Najib said King Sultan Abdul Halim has consented to the dissolution of the lower house of parliament.
"The king has accepted my request to dissolve parliament effective Apr. 3," Najib said, adding that he hoped Malaysians would “choose the brighter path and vote for a stronger, more prosperous nation.”
Najib's National Front coalition, which has been ruling Malaysia for 56 years now, for the first time lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament in 2008 elections, to a three-party alliance led by former deputy Anwar Ibrahim. Najib, who succeeded Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – who was forced to step down after being blamed for weak leadership – four years ago, is under immense pressure to improve the tally and restore the two-third majority.
However, it is not going to be an easy task given the rising popularity for the Anwar’s resurgent opposition coalition that won control of four of 13 states in the last general elections and wrested 82 of 122 seats in the parliament. The opposition is banking on rising anti-incumbency wave and desire for faster economic reforms among a large section of people.
Najib, who in the past year had undertaken several reforms to woo back the voters, warned that an opposition victory would bring instability in the nation.
“I believe our record speaks for itself. Over the past four years, we have begun to build a better nation, with a stronger economy and a reformed government. We have come such a long way, but the task is not yet complete.
“Our national transformation is still a story half told. If we do not keep up the pace of reform, we risk losing out. But with a strong mandate, we can continue. So today, I ask you to let me finish the job: to vote for progress, not against it," he said in a statement.
Failure to restore the two-third majority might hamper Najib’s plans to fast-track the economic reforms, while analysts point out that a win with a thin margin might trigger demands for leadership change within the ruling coalition.
Although most of the political experts expect Najib to win the elections, they say it would be a close call, pointing to the narrowing lead between the parties in the opinion polls.
A recent poll by the University of Malaya showed the ruling coalition to garner 42 percent support compared with the opposition's 37 percent, but 21 percent of voters remain undecided.
Another survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center in February showed Najib's approval rating at 61 percent, down 10 points since the end of 2011. His coalition is less popular, polling at 45 percent, Reuters reported.
"There is a high degree of uncertainty on the election outcome as large section of youth will be voting for the first time," Ibrahim Suffian, director at Merdeka Center told the Wall Street Journal.
Some observers feel that Anwar’s opposition still has a chance.
"I don't think (the opposition) will actually win, but the possibility is certainly bigger than before in 2008,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who heads the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, a Malaysian think tank told Associated Press. "It will be a make-or-break election for Najib. If Najib doesn't perform better than in 2008, what moral authority does he have to remain in power?"
The ethnic Malays form over half of the 29 million population of the Southeast Asian nation, followed by Chinese minority, while ethnic Indians form a smaller minority. Election is expected to be held Apr. 27 following a two-week campaign period.