More than 21 million people will have the chance to vote in Malaysia’s 15th general election when polling stations open on Saturday.
The economy and rising cost of living are among voters’ top concerns but Malaysians are also frustrated at continued in-fighting among politicians, which led to the collapse of the previous elected government.
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Adding to the election’s unpredictability, millions of new voters have also joined the electoral roll after the law was changed to give people the vote once they turn 18 and introduce automatic voter registration. These votes will be key, along with those of the ethnic Malays who make up a majority of the population but whose political allegiances are in flux.
Malaysia is a federation made up of 13 states – two of them on the island of Borneo – and three federal territories.
Representatives are elected directly to parliament by a simple majority. The party or coalition with the most seats forms the government and its leader usually becomes the prime minister.
In conjunction with the federal election, certain states are also holding elections for state assemblies.
Voting is not compulsory, and the turnout fluctuates.
In the 2018 polls, 82.3 percent of nearly 15 million voters cast their ballots – one of the highest turnouts in Malaysia’s history.
Malaysia has a diverse multiethnic population which plays an important role in the political landscape.
Some parties cater to particular ethnicities, forming coalitions to widen their appeal across the electorate. In recent years, more multiracial parties have emerged.
Malaysia has had three prime ministers since the last election.
Muhyiddin Yassin, 75
Muhyiddin has represented the constituency of Pagoh in the southern state of Johor since 1978, first with UMNO and more recently with Bersatu.
Prime minister from 2020 until 2021, he championed his record during the COVID-19 pandemic on the campaign trail, although at the time he was criticised for the hardship caused by prolonged lockdowns and border closures, as well as his attempts to declare an emergency that would have suspended parliament.
Ismail Sabri Yaakob, 62
UMNO vice president
Ismail Sabri has been a member of parliament since 2004 when he was elected to represent the newly-created seat of Bera.
He became prime minister in 2021 after Muhyiddin resigned.
He said he called the election to give the people a chance to choose their government and restore “stability”. As UMNO’s vice president he is not the party’s leader – that role is held by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is on trial for corruption.
Anwar Ibrahim, 75
Anwar began his political career as a student before joining UMNO, where he rose to become deputy prime minister and finance minister.
His sudden sacking in 1998 sparked mass street protests and calls for reform. Accused of sodomy and jailed twice before eventually being pardoned, he returned to parliament in 2018.