PETALING JAYA: As Malaysians go to the polls today, the wait begins for what the most keenly fought general election ever will bring. The earliest results are expected by around eight tonight.
Nearly 15 million voters will decide who will represent them in 222 parliamentary seats and in the 505 state seats in 12 states, in an election that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak says will determine the destiny of the nation.
They will also decide the contest for Putrajaya with the focus on the “hot states” of Kedah, Johor and Sabah.
The long run-up to the 14th General Election may have caused political fatigue but the temperatures only shot up after nomination day when voters were finally able to assess the candidates and parties to support.
It has been a difficult election to predict because of the new political alignment among the Opposition parties and also the shift taking place in the Malay political landscape.
General elections have not been the same since 2008 but Barisan Nasional has gone into battle his time with a highly-organised machinery and a well-thought-out manifesto to take the country into another five years of economic and political stability.
But it is up against a formidable Pakatan Harapan Opposition that has coagulated around the leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
It has never happened before – a former prime minister, aged 92, taking on a much younger sitting Prime Minister – and it has captured the people’s imagination.
The stakes are immense for the two men.
The Pakatan coalition of former enemies has rallied support by promising to abolish road tolls and the GST.
Dr Mahathir has drawn huge crowds at each of his ceramah over the last 10 days of campaigning but he has been unable to whip up a Malay tsunami.
He has been unable to replicate the 1999 Malay tsunami that came at him after he sacked Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
That is not the only irony permeating the entire election campaign – Pakatan’s clout this time around has revolved around controversial Umno leaders, including Tun Daim Zainuddin and Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.
Surveys indicate an erosion of Malay votes from Umno to Pakatan and PAS, and the question is whether that will be enough to do damage to Barisan.
On the other hand, a question mark also hangs over how much damage PAS, which is now leading Gagasan Sejaterah, can do to the other two coalitions.
The popular opinion is that without the clout of PAS, Pakatan has lost that extra push needed to reach the finishing line first.
The consequence of Pakatan without PAS has been all too evident. Pakatan ceramah, no matter how big, have been notable for the limited Malay numbers.
GE14 has been described as a battle for the Malay votes. Numerous surveys have shown an unusually high number of Malays who are undecided about their support and the results tonight will set the record straight on where the Malay chips fall.
The result will also shape the survival of the ruling coalition and the country’s economy.
The likelihood of Barisan remaining in power is high, but it needs to win by a comfortable majority.
A slim majority spells more the politicking, both in the country and within the coalition parties.
Political analysts are of the view that this election hinges on how several key factors play out – the popular vote, the effect of the constituency redelineation, the outcome of PAS reverting to its solo role and the impact of the Mahathir factor on the rural Malay vote.
We should know by late tonight. Or in the early hours of tomorrow. It is decision time for Malaysia.