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Barisan Nasional faces stronger opposition


March 8, 2008

Barisan Nasional faces stronger opposition

As the opposition looked set to garner more votes than it ever did, the ruling coalition went all out to attract voters’ attention on the eve of the elections to be held on Saturday, March 8.

More than 10.2 million people are expected to vote in the polls, in which the ruling National Front coalition is expected to win. At stake are 222 seats in the Parliament. Twelve of Malaysia’s 13 states will also go to the polls simultaneously to elect state legislatures. Most of the results will be known by early Sunday.

Led by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the coalition has been in power since the country's independence in 1957 but Saturday's elections are expected to see several key parliamentary seats hotly contested.

The Barisan Nasional, the coalition led by United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), having 11 seats of the parliamentary and state elections in advance, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi expects two-thirds majority in the polls  for his coalition.

However, ethnic tensions and anger over rising prices mean BN faces tough fights across the diverse landscape that runs from conservative northern heartlands to cosmopolitan cities, reported the Associated Press.

In the last elections in 2004, the National Front secured an overwhelming two-thirds majority of contested parliamentary seats, a feat many analysts and observers believe won't be repeated in the latest polls.

Political observers said the coalition that has ruled for half a century is rattled by signs that minority ethnic Chinese and Indians will defect to the opposition led by charismatic former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar and other opposition leaders have reportedly been drawing big crowds at political rallies in Kuala Lumpur, campaigning on issues like high inflation and rising crime rates which resonate with voters.

More than 7,000 Malaysians of all races braved the pouring rain to gather in a village outside the capital Thursday night to hear Anwar speak, standing transfixed despite the thunder and lightning, AFP reported.

The opposition parties had a good chance of doubling their presence in the new 222-seat parliament to 40 seats, with most gains from the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party and the Islamic hardliners PAS, the agency quoted a political analyst as saying.

The opposition, in its campaign speeches, has called on the people to help vote in a stronger opposition presence in Parliament in order to create a greater check and balance in government.

The opposition parties, which have formed a loose alliance, are aiming for 75 seats which would break the coalition's two-thirds majority that allows it to amend the constitution at will.

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