Malaysians will go to the polls next month, officials announced yesterday, with the long-ruling and scandal-tainted ruling coalition facing one of its toughest ever challenges from veteran ex-leader Mahathir Mohamad.
The poll date announced by the election commission -- May 9 -- sparked fury among the opposition who claimed a weekday election was deliberately chosen to keep turnout low, favouring Najib.
It is the first time in almost 20 years that a Malaysian election has been set for a weekday.
"I am very, very angry," opposition candidate Maria Chin Abdullah told AFP. "This move by the election commission is obviously to ensure victory for the ruling party."
Prime Minister Najib Razak's Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has been in power for six decades, has seen its popularity wane in recent years, a slide further compounded by a multi billion-dollar scandal surrounding state fund 1MDB.
Najib is still tipped to win due to BN's firm grip on Malaysia's weakened institutions, and what critics claim are efforts by the government to rig the election through gerrymandering and other forms of cheating.
But he faces a tough challenge from Mahathir, 92, who was Malaysian premier for over two decades but has come out of retirement to take on his former protege Najib at the head of the opposition.
Najib is under pressure from allies in his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the main coalition party, to score an emphatic victory after the government lost the popular vote in at the last election in 2013.
As the polls approached, the BN-dominated parliament voted to redraw constituency boundaries in a manner analysts say favours the ruling coalition.