The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, announced he would dissolve Parliament on Wednesday, launching a critical election campaign for his multiethnic coalition, which has been in power since independence from Britain more than five decades ago. After years of what amounted to one-party rule in Malaysia, the country’s opposition parties have been ascendant, challenging a system that is based on ethnicity. Chinese voters, who make up about one quarter of the country’s population of nearly 30 million, have abandoned the ruling coalition in large numbers. And the country’s main Malay ethnic group, which has dominated politics in the country for five decades, is divided.
Mr. Najib, who addressed the country on national television, sounded at times defensive in his remarks. “Don’t gamble the future of your children and Malaysia,” he said, according to the Reuters news agency. “Think and contemplate because your vote will determine not only the future of the country but also your grandchildren.”
The elections will be the first electoral test for Mr. Najib who took office in 2009 from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the former prime minister who led the coalition during the last elections in 2008.
Mr. Najib has made several changes to what was a mildly authoritarian system. He announced the repeal of laws that allow for detention without trial and barred students from politics.
But daily newspapers and television channels, many of which have links to the country’s ruling parties, still have a paternalistic tone and have been criticized by the opposition for being cheerleaders for the government’s policies.