Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Friday announced the dissolution of parliament for a general election that will pose one of the sternest-ever tests for his ruling coalition due to a massive financial scandal and a challenge from former leader Mahathir Mohamad.
The government lost a two-thirds parliamentary majority, needed to amend the constitution, in the 222-seat parliament at the 2008 election and is hoping to win it back.
His campaign slogan "Make my country great with BN" has similarities with President Donald Trump's 2016 election motto "Make America great again".
Barisan Nasional (BN) is confident of winning the upcoming 14th General Election (GE14) as the "Malay tsunami" that has been touted by some opposition will not happen, said Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Dr Salleh Said Keruak as reported by Channel NewsAsia.
"I worry that we are losing democracy, especially the democratic right to choose our own leaders through elections", Mahathir said, after the order. "Never let it go to the opposition!" he told thousands of supporters in a packed stadium on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur as he launched his election manifesto. "The key question is which side can provide a better life for you, your family, children and grandchildren, as well as their future". He said the 1MDB fiasco had turned Malaysia into a "global kleptocracy" and that voting for the ruling coalition will not make it great but will destroy Malaysia.
Both Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
Najib faces a strong challenge from 92-year-old Mahathir, Asia's longest-serving leader for 22 years before he retired in 2003.
Mahathir accused Najib of "terrorizing" his opponents to win the polls after his nascent political party was ordered to temporarily disband over registration requirements.
Najib is tipped to win, despite a rising disillusionment with scandals, increased living costs and divisive racial politics in the multi-ethnic country.
In addition, Najib also tried to seek support of voters in eastern Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Mahathir has long championed the Malay cause and the opposition hopes he can win over Muslim voters disillusioned with BN, to bolster their support base of urban voters and ethnic minorities, particularly the Chinese.
He said Malaysia's economy has made enormous strides since Najib took office in 2009 and its gross national income had increased by more than 50 per cent while 2.3 million new jobs were created, unemployment and inflation were kept low, and the prevalence of poverty being nearly eradicated. He pledged to erase debts of Malay farmers and landowners linked to a state plantation company, and create 3 million new jobs to soothe concerns over rising unemployment among youths.
"We have delivered and we will continue to deliver", he said, appealing to the country's 14.9 million voters.
Salleh said the opposition, which has historically secured the bulk of its support from the Chinese population, should be more concerned about whether the Chinese would do so in this election as well.
The Election Commission will meet next week to fix the polling dates.