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Malaysia two weeks away from vote
Kate Arnott reports.

In two weeks Malaysians go to the polls in what could be the country's closest election ever.

Prime minister Najib Razak's ruling Barisan National Ruling Coalition is facing a strong challenge from the opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: In two weeks Malaysians go to the polls in what could be the country's closest election ever.

Prime minister Najib Razak's ruling Barisan National Ruling Coalition is facing a strong challenge from the opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim.

The opposition leader is campaigning on an end to corruption and to racial discrimination. The prime minister is playing on the county's economic strengths and his government's achievements.

Kate Arnott reports.

KATE ARNOTT, REPORTER: For the first time since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957, the ruling coalition faces a real possibility of losing power. All the polls point to a very close race.

(Footage of opposition political rally plays)

Since the Government lost its two thirds parliamentary majority in 2008, opposition parties have been making steady gains.

ANWAR IBRAHIM, MALAYSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: You need to support people's awakening. This is certainly not about Anwar or any other party leaders. This is about (speaks Indonesian) one thing and demanding change in this country.


NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER (translation): There are those who are appalled by the word change. The important thing is not to change what already exists, what is important is the success of the government.

(Footage of government rally plays)

KATE ARNOTT: The prime minister says the achievements of his government over the past four years have been remarkable. And he's warned the electorate not to experiment with new leadership.

Najib Razak, though, is under no illusion his government has a tough fight on its hands.

BEN SUFFIAN, MERDEKA CENTRE: I think there is a sense of growing awareness that it is no longer business as usual, that they need to change. But the question is do they have enough time? It's only a couple of weeks before we hit the polls.

KATE ARNOTT: For the opposition leader, fighting corruption and restoring good governance is a priority.

ANWAR IBRAHIM: Enough of corruption. Enough of racism. Enough of arrogance and abuse of power.

KATE ARNOTT: The Prime Minister also can't ignore that corruption has been a major problem and he too has promised to tackle it.

He's started by axing some high profile MPs and bringing in a significant number of new younger faces to contest the poll on May the 5th.

BEN SUFFIAN: By and large, the problematic candidates, the old candidates that has some baggage, have been dropped off the list. There are new people being put on the list now that have little history of mismanagement or abuse.

(Footage of protest plays)

KATE ARNOTT: In the past few years, there's been a lot of public anger about the way elections have been conducted in Malaysia.

NAJIB RAZAK: Let me say categorically that elections in Malaysia have always been free and fair. If elections have not been free and fair, we wouldn't have lost the two thirds majority at the last general elections in 2008 and we wouldn't have lost five states either.

KATE ARNOTT: Nevertheless, Najib Razak says the government is committed to strengthening the electoral process, and he's cited the introduction of indelible ink and greater scrutiny of electoral roles.

ABDUL AZIZ MOHAMAD, MALAYSIA'S ELECTION COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: We have introduced so many improvement, so many changes and we plan very carefully, and we hope this election going to be the best election.

KATE ARNOTT: For the first time the election commission has appointed 2,500 domestic observers and 35 foreign observers from five ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma and Cambodia.

Both the government and opposition have issued election manifestos, which analysts say target low to middle income workers. And it's that group that could tilt the outcome of the poll to either side.

(Footage of appearance by Najib Razak plays)

To that end, Najib Razak has been talking up the strong performance of the Malaysian economy against a backdrop of global uncertainty.

NAJIB RAZAK (Translation): The goal is simply and solely to ensure that our country will be a developed nation with a high income by the year 2020. The focus and objective is to advance the interests of the people.

BEN SUFFIAN: For the first time we have two coalitions that are somewhat mirroring each other, both promising development, economic progress and at the same time differentiated by how they are going to deal with the issue of good governance. And addressing the competing ethnic and religious interests here in Malaysia.

ANWAR IBRAHIM: I am a Malay, I am a Muslim and I'm a proud Malay and a practising Muslim. But I know that I need to respect the right of every single Malay, Chinese, Indian dia (phonetic) in this country.

KATE ARNOTT: The opposition wants to reform a long standing quota system favouring Malays. And while the prime minister has rolled back some of his government's policies that benefit Malays, many preferential ones remain.

The United Malay's National Organisation, or UMNO, is still the most influential party in the ruling Barisan National Coalition, and Malays make up about 60 per cent of the electorate.

But analysts say a significant group of young Malay voters are now aligning themselves with the opposition, and that's not the only thing the ruling coalition has to worry about.

BEN SUFFIAN: The opposition is making a very strong show in grabbing votes in the former India stronghold states like Johor, in Sabah, where for the longest time they've had assured dominance in the politics there. Opposition leaders are making inroads in all of these areas that BN in the past had felt it was safe.
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