KUALA LUMPUR - The campaign for Malaysia's 14th general election has officially begun, as nominations closed and candidates began ramping up their bid to win over voters in constituencies across the country.
The election has been billed as the closest ever and an unprecedented contest, with ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) led by Prime Minister Najib Razak facing a contest against opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH) led by former PM Mahathir Mohamad.
It will see a record number of multi-cornered fights, with Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) contesting more than 150 of the 222 seats in the Federal Parliament.
The Election Commission (EC) had certified more than 630 parliamentary candidates as of 2.30pm. A total of 505 seats in 12 state assemblies are also being contested, with more than 1,500 candidates being certified.
Datuk Seri Najib faces a four-way battle for the Pekan parliamentary seat in Pahang.
The BN chairman will defend the seat against Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) candidate Ahiatudin Daud, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) candidate Zahid Mat Arip and independent candidate Abd Kadir Sainudin.
Former Malaysian premier Mahathir is set for a three-cornered fight in Langkawi against BN's incumbent MP Nawawi Ahmad and Langkawi PAS chief Zubir Ahmad.
Thousands of supporters thronged nominations centres throughout Malaysia on Saturday (April 28) to cheer on their candidates as they submitted their nomination forms.
The submissions were scrutinised by the returning officers and by other candidates from rival sides, who were looking out for mistakes that could disqualify the candidates. These include basic things such as mistakes in addresses or wrong identity card numbers.
There were two significant no-shows - self-styled bomoh Ibrahim Mat Zin did not turn up in Bagan Datuk, Perak, where he had said he would be standing against Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
And in Batu Pahat Johor, Datuk Puad Zarkashi - the Umno division chief for the area who was not picked as a candidate - also did not turn up to register his name for the contest. He had dropped hints that he might contest as an independent.
Returning officers will be announcing candidates who have qualified to stand in the various parliamentary and state assembly seats,.
Sarawak will hold elections for only its 31 Parliament seats, as its state polls were held in May 2016.
The official campaigning period will last for 11 days until midnight on May 9.
One key feature in an incumbent's favour will be multi-cornered fights in most parliamentary seats.
The three main groups set for battle are: ruling coalition Barisan Nasional led by Prime Minister Najib; the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) pact led by former premier Mahathir; and the Gagasan Sejahtera coalition led by Parti Islam SeMalaysia, which aims to contest at least 130 seats.
PH's four parties - Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Democratic Action Party, Parti Amanah Negara and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) - decided to contest under the banner of PKR after their plan to register PH was blocked by the Registrar of Societies, which said PPBM had failed to satisfactorily submit documents relating to its meetings.
The EC's new guidelines have also been decried for restricting campaign material to photographs of only two leaders of a political party - the president and deputy president, or equivalent - and the photo of the candidate for that constituency.
As the PH members will contest under the PKR logo, they can use pictures of only PKR president Wan Azizah Ismail and deputy president Azmin Ali. They will not be able to use those of Tun Mahathir, who they are banking on to attract Malay voters, except in Langkawi, where he is contesting.
Voter turnout, which was 84.8 per cent in 2013 when polling was on a Sunday, could be lower as Polling Day this time falls on a Wednesday.