KUALA LUMPUR— For the first time since its independence from Britain in 1957, Malaysia could see a change in government after Sunday's election. But as citizens thronged to polling booths, allegations of electoral foul play were rampant.
Undeterred by the intense tropical heat and long lines, Malaysia’s polling booths were inundated with eager voters Sunday morning.
The election is the closest ever in the country’s history and has seen a record number of registered voters.
Formerly apathetic 34-year-old Camilla Das voted for the first time Sunday. “I kind of figured you know, probably my vote actually makes a difference, so that’s why I didn’t want it to go to waste,” she said.
Like Camilla, more than 3 million Malaysians will likely vote for the first time Sunday, with young Malaysians expected to have a big impact on the final result.
On the eve of the election, a poll by the Merdeka Center indicated that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had a slight edge over Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The survey released Friday showed that Anwar looked set to win 89 out of 222 parliamentary seats, compared to 85 for Najib’s ruling Barisan National coalition.
As the competition has intensified over recent weeks, so too have allegations of electoral foul play. This year, indelible ink was introduced to prevent electoral fraud, but many voters reported that it was fallible.
At a polling booth in Kuala Lumpur Sunday morning, Simitha Singan put it to the test with some detergent, saying, “So I was like I want to try it out myself. So we did it and it came out.”
Outsiders coming in?
Stories of foreigners being flown in and given Malaysian identity cards, or ICs, so they can vote for the incumbent government have also circulated heavily on online news websites.
Ng Sek San, a polling observer overseeing a team of volunteers that is verifying voter information, says there are doubts about the integrity of the election.
“I think there is a lot of evidence out there, whether it is on the net or photographs and things like that," he said. "There are a lot of inconsistencies coming through to us. A lot of people that have been flown in from other states, some of them are not even Malaysian citizens, and they were just given temporary identity cards. And of course there is a lot of money politics and vote buying.”
Simitha Singan, who works for the Independent Center for Independent Journalism in Kuala Lumpur, even claims that she spoke to a phantom voter Saturday.
“I am very sure this election is not going to be free and fair because yesterday I saw a Bangladeshi on the road and I asked him, ‘so are you going to vote tomorrow’ and he like, ‘yeah, I’m going to vote.’ And I was like, ‘how are you going to vote, do you have an IC and he’s like ha ha ha, yeh, actually I have an IC.’ And he was bravely telling me that so I’m very sure it is not going to be a clean election, but I just hope people decide wisely. We’ve had 56 years of nonsense and I think it’s about time we change that nonsense,” said Singan.
Government says vote will be fair
But Prime Minister Najib says he is committed to a fair election, and allegations that foreigners have been flown in to vote for his government are baseless.
After the morning shift manning the ballot box in a tightly contested electorate, 37-year-old bank auditor Michael Yap agreed, saying, “So far I have seen that the process has been conducted very fairly thoroughly, in a very transparent manner and a diligent manner. Everyone is very cooperative towards the process.”
The ruling coalition Barisan National has campaigned heavily on the promise of continued political stability and strong economic growth.
Rallying against rising living costs, pro-Malay policies and what he says is a corrupt and nepotistic government, former deputy prime minister turned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says the country has had enough.
It is a sentiment that 56-year-old surveyor Kwong Hai Foo cannot help but agree with - even though he says he has been happy with the current government’s performance.
“I think they did a good job but I think they can be better than what it is at the present," said Kwong. "So I think for 55 years they have done quite bit. Maybe we should give the other party a chance so that at least they can show us what they can do for the people.”
The Malaysian government is the world’s longest serving democratic government.
Preliminary results of Sunday’s election are expected as early as Sunday evening.