KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will hold its 14th general election on May 9, the country’s Election Commission (EC) said.
Nomination day for candidates will be on April 28, after which parties can begin campaigning, the EC announced on Tuesday (April 10).
“The campaign period will last 11 days,” said EC chairman Mohd Hashim Abdullah.
Eleven days is the minimum campaigning period required by law.
May 9 falls on a Wednesday. This marks the first time Malaysia is holding its polls on a weekday in almost 20 years. The last time the country held polls on a weekday was in 1999.
Opposition member Wan Saiful Wan Jan called the weekday polling date as “another attempt by (Prime Minister) Najib Razak and Umno to steal the election”.
“Umno wants a low turnout because they know a high number of voters are not with them,” said Mr Wan Saiful, a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia supreme council member, in a statement.
There are currently about 400,000 Malaysians working in Singapore, with some residing on the island state while many commute daily from Johor. The EC had said in January that Malaysians living in neighbouring areas like Singapore, South Thailand, Brunei and Kalimantan, Indonesia are not eligible to vote by post and must return to Malaysia to cast their ballot.
A mid-week election is also likely to affect turnout in the country’s less-developed states like Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak, say analysts, as voters registered there often live and work in urban centres on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
“Younger voters who live and work elsewhere would find it difficult to get leave from work and travel home,” said Adib Zalkapli, political risk consultant at Vriens & Partners. “There’s a widely-held assumption that outstation and overseas voters are generally opposition supporters,” he adds.
Low-cost carrier AirAsia issued a statement on Tuesday that it would waive flight change fees for bookings issued in Malaysia where the travel date falls on polling day.
Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid declared a special holiday for all schools nationwide on May 9 in conjunction with polling day, reported the New Straits Times. Schools are often used as voting centres in Malaysia's elections, with thousands of teachers roped in to serve as EC staff.
According to Tan Sri Hashim, the EC will be using the electoral roll updated to the fourth quarter of 2017, which has 14.9 million registered voters. In the last election in 2013, Malaysia had 13.3 million registered voters, and an 85 per cent turnout at the polls.
Early voting will be held on Saturday, May 5, for over 300,000 registered early voters largely comprising army personnel, policemen and their spouses.
The upcoming polls, expected to be a closely fought one, will see ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) pitted against Pakatan Harapan and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) in multiple three-cornered fights nationwide.
A low voter turnout is generally seen as benefiting BN. "If the turnout is less than 65 per cent of the electorate, it’ll most likely be a landslide win for BN,” said James Chin, director of Asia Institute, University of Tasmania.
Described as “the mother of all elections”, the polls will also see former premier turned opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92, coming out of retirement to challenge his former protege Datuk Seri Najib, 64.