The date for Malaysia's highly anticipated polls, which are expected to be the closest in the country's history, has been set, the head of the country's electoral watchdog has announced.

Malaysia's general election is to be held on May 5, Aziz Yusof, the Election Commission chairman, said on Wednesday.

Yusof said balloting would be preceded by a two-week official campaign period kicking off on April 20.

The general elections will determine whether Prime Minister Najib Razak's governing coalition, can extend nearly 56 years of uninterrupted rule and prevail over an opposition alliance that accuses it of corruption and authoritarianism.

The opposition Peoples' Alliance, led by Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy minister won five of Malaysia's 13 states in 2008 and stands a strong chance of toppling the coalition.

Najib has promised regular cash allowances for the poor as one of numerous incentives for voters to hand his National Front coalition another five-year mandate.

Ibrahim however is calling for faster political and economic reform and has pledged to tackle government authoritarianism and corruption.

He has promised tax cuts, an increase in subsidies and to address complaints of discrimination against minority ethnic Chinese and Indians. 

About 13.3 million Malaysians will be eligible to cast ballots to fill 222 seats in the federal parliament and to choose representatives for 12 state legislatures.

The National Front won 2008 polls with less than a two-thirds parliamentary majority in its worst electoral performance since independence from Britain in 1957.

Source: Agencies