Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the dissolution of parliament on Friday, paving the way for a tough election where the embattled leader will face off against his old mentor and the country’s most seasoned campaigner Mahathir Mohamad. Najib, 64, burdened by a multi-billion dollar scandal linked to a state fund, is under pressure to deliver an emphatic win for his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition as he struggles to appease Malaysians unhappy with rising costs and blunt the challenge from the charismatic 92-year-old Mahathir.
Najib is expected to retain power due to a deep rift in opposition ranks between Mahathir’s bloc and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, but analysts predict a tough fight from Mahathir, who transformed Malaysia into an industrial nation from a rural backwater during his iron-fisted 22-year rule until 2003.
Najib’s opponents say the election will be unfair. In the lead up to the polls, the parliament approved plans to redraw electoral boundaries and passed a contentious anti-fake news bill, changes his opponents claim favor Najib and his ruling allies. The government rejects the charge.