KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) –
Malaysians voted on Saturday in a general election that may fail to end the recent phase of political instability in the Southeast Asian nation as polls have predicted no clear winner.
The alliance led by veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is forecast to take the most seats in parliament but fail to reach the majority needed to form a government.
Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s ruling Barisan coalition and another bloc led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin are other leading contenders. Muhyiddin’s alliance was a junior partner in Ismail’s coalition government, and the two could come together again to block Anwar.
Without a clear winner, political uncertainty could persist as Malaysia faces slowing economic growth and rising inflation.
It has had three prime ministers in as many years, including 97-year-old Mahathir Mohamed, who ruled Malaysia for more than two decades during two stints in power, and has roused himself for one last fight, though he is not considered a leading contender.
If Anwar clinches the top job, it would cap a remarkable journey for a politician who in 25 years has gone from heir apparent to the premiership to a political prisoner convicted of sodomy to the country’s leading opposition figure.
“Right now, I think things are looking good and we are cautiously confident,” Anwar told reporters after casting his vote in the state of Penang.
Ismail said his coalition was targeting a simple majority, but would be open to working with others if it failed to do so.
Malaysia’s 21.1 million eligible voters, including 6 million new ones, chose 222 lawmakers for the lower house of parliament. The race was fluid, with opinion polls showing significant numbers of undecided voters in the days before the vote.
Polls closed at 6 p.m. (1000 GMT).
Some 70% of voters had cast their ballots by 4 p.m., the Election Commission said.
Voter turnout in the previous election was one of the highest at 82%, but given the bigger pool of voters in this poll, Saturday’s turnout had already surpassed the prior election by nearly 2 million voters.
Higher turnouts typically tend to favor the opposition.
The top issues are the economy, along with corruption as several leaders from the incumbent Barisan Nasional coalition face graft accusations. Malaysians are also frustrated with the political instability, seen as hampering development efforts.