Malaysia's Parliament will be dissolved today, paving the way for a heated general election which the government and opposition have painted as a "do-or-die" battle.
The Election Commission will now decide the date for the polls, which must be held within 60 days. With the Muslim fasting month beginning in mid-May, expectations are that 15 million voters will vote early next month, with May 5 seen as the most likely date.
Prime Minister Najib Razak, who heads the 13-party ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), announced the dissolution live on national television yesterday. He advised the state governments to meet their respective heads of state to dissolve their own state assemblies.
Both parliamentary and state assembly seats will be contested in Malaysia's 14th general election, aside from Sarawak, which held its state polls in 2016.
"If BN wins again, we promise and vow to do our best with a wider and more inclusive, more comprehensive transformation. The transformation journey cannot stop here. The world has changed, and we should not regress or return to the bleak and dark past," he said, in a thinly veiled reference to predecessor Mahathir Mohamad.
Tun Dr Mahathir, who was in power for 22 years until 2003, is the opposition's candidate for PM. He quit Umno two years ago after falling out with Datuk Seri Najib, sparked by his calls for the party to ditch the Premier over graft allegations.
The election momentum accelerated this past week as BN fast-tracked key motions through Parliament covering redrawn electoral boundaries and fake news, and announced a raft of handouts to crucial vote banks such as the country's 1.6 million civil servants.
The authorities also suspended Dr Mahathir's Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, while jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been denied access to his lawyer.
The opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance sees this general election as its best shot at federal power. It brings together once bitter foes who insist that a continued Najib administration will wreck the nation's finances and institutions.
Dr Mahathir told The Sunday Times in a recent interview: "If we lose this, there is no future... But the legacy that he leaves behind will kill all the prime ministers who follow."
In the other corner of the ring, the BN component parties had earlier said that a poor performance in this general election could spell the end for their parties.
At the last Umno annual congress in December, Mr Najib described the national polls as "the father of all elections".
Although recent opinion polls show that the government's popularity is waning, analysts believe Dr Mahathir's PH alliance faces an uphill battle to unseat the government. This is due to expected multi-cornered fights, as the opposition pact's former ally Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has chosen to contest independently in at least 130 of the 222 parliamentary seats. PAS is expected to pull away crucial Malay support from PH.
Support from the Malays, the country's dominant ethnic community, has been crucial to Mr Najib's grip on power.
In 2013, the once-dominant BN garnered just 47 per cent of the votes against the opposition's 51 per cent, but still secured a comfortable majority of parliamentary seats, thanks to electoral boundaries which favour rural-based Malays.
More than 60 per cent of Malays backed BN then, giving it 133 of the 222 wards in Parliament and leaving the opposition with 89 seats.