Road to Malaysia’s General Election Getting Thornier

Road to Malaysia’s General Election Getting ThornierRoad to Malaysia’s General Election Getting Thornier

The road to Malaysia’s May 9 general election is getting thornier for opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad: reportedly officials are cutting out or painting over his image on some billboards and police are investigating him for spreading fake news.

Mahathir and other opposition leaders say the moves are intended to further help the prospects of Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose ruling coalition already enjoys a near-monopoly of coverage in newspapers and on television and radio, Reuters reported.

“I have never seen an election like this. It hasn’t yet begun but efforts to cheat are already underway,” Mahathir, 92, said at an election rally on Thursday. “You can see that this time Najib is so afraid, he is afraid of even a picture.”

Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance dismissed the allegations. “Every election we hear the same complaints,” Communications Minister Salleh Said Keruak said in response to Mahathir’s comments.

Najib has said the opposition has subjected the government to a “tsunami of slander”.

BN, which analysts say is facing its toughest election since it took power when Malaysia became independent six decades ago, has previously said the opposition claims are an effort to win sympathy votes and smear the reputation of the Election Commission.

  Once Mentor Turned Rival

Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister Mahathir was once a mentor of Najib but turned against him and joined the opposition over a multi-billion-dollar financial scandal that has plagued the government since 2015.

Pictures of Mahathir have been removed from billboards in a constituency in Johor state, an opposition member of parliament has said. The Election Commission said that was done to comply with new guidelines regulating the use of images of party officials on campaign materials. Mahathir said his allegations of “cheating” also referred to the redrawing of electoral boundaries just weeks before the poll, which his camp says will favor the government.

  Too Many Obstacles

The Election Commission said the redrawing of the electoral map in March was free from political interference, and says its rules on campaign materials are being applied equitably.

A recent report by political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said although support for the opposition appeared to be gaining momentum, it had only a 15% chance of winning.

“Najib has placed too many obstacles in their way and there is too little time before the vote on May 9 to overcome those,” said Eurasia’s Asia director, Peter Mumford.

A BN spokesman said the government had placed no such obstacles. “The opposition is preparing excuses for when they lose, but Malaysians—whose free and fair votes will determine the result—know better,” the spokesman said.

In April, Najib’s government passed an anti-fake news law seen by critics as a move to suppress dissent and free speech.

Within four weeks of the introduction of the law, Mahathir was under investigation for spreading “fake news” over claims his plane was sabotaged in the run-up to elections. “Go ahead and charge me,” Mahathir said on Thursday.

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