Mahathir claims election win over ruling coalition

People line up to vote during the general election in Alor Setar

People line up to vote during the general election in Alor Setar

Polling stations for the 14.9 million registered Malaysian voters open at 0000 GMT and close at 0900 GMT.

Najib became Malaysia's sixth prime minister in 2009 but his rule has been clouded by a corruption and global money laundering investigation by the US and several other countries into Malaysian state investment fund 1MDB.

The National Front has ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 and is the world's longest-serving elected government.

Mahathir ruled Malaysia between 1981 and 2003. The surge is likely to have persuaded Prime Minister Najib Razak to call the election earlier than August, when it was due, political analysts have said.

The race is expected to be tight.

The race has been fiercely contested, and the opposition alliance has gained ground in recent weeks as Mahathir, who ruled with an iron fist for 22 years, chipped away at the government's key support base, the Muslim Malay majority.

Because the Goods and Services Tax and currency are major voter concerns, the outcome of the election will likely affect the country's economic policies.

The 70 percent turnout for the mid-week election, announced at 3 p.m., appeared considerably lower than the 85 percent recorded in the previous general election in 2013, officials said. The opposition says it needs a high turnout to have a chance of ousting Najib. Polling Day, when citizens get to vote, falls on Wednesday.

Mahathir Mohamed and supporters celebrate at a Kuala Lumpur hotel after official results showed they staged a stunning upset to win Wednesday's general election, ending the six-decade rule of the National Front.

Mahathir has a reputation as an authoritarian, but is still a huge figure in the country.

"It's been a calm election in terms of the physical aspect of the election", he told reporters.

"The prime minister's speech is the ideal reverse-image of the political reality of Malaysia", said Dr. Sophie Lemiere, a political anthropologist at Harvard University.

"Instead of fighting for its people, country and religion, Najib believes that trust can be bought with money", he said in his final campaign speech.

The controversy surrounding 1MDB has dogged Najib since the story exploded in 2015.

"We certainly can conclude that the prime minister is a very skillful political player. when there's a skillful politician that still has considerable popular support, you'll also see that they tend to survive scandals like this", Van Der Wal said.

Najib denies any wrongdoing.

The graft and money laundering scandal, under investigation by several countries including Malaysia's ally the US, as well as the 2015 imposition of a goods and services tax that hit poor Malays hardest, have been foremost in voters' minds.

As polls opened, senior opposition figures claimed their phones were flooded with spam calls from overseas to hamper their communications, with Lim Kit Siang - a key opposition leader - accusing the ruling coalition of "dirty tricks".

Peter Mumford, an analyst with Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy for investors, said the credibility of Malaysia's institutions has been "torn to pieces" by Najib's election tactics.

Momentum for the opposition has been gathering, and experts believe that will narrow the margin of victory for Najib. "By now we would know who is winning and who is losing, but there is a deliberate attempt to delay", he said, claiming that officers in charge of counting centers were refusing to sign off on the numbers.

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