A military officer casts his vote at a polling station during the early voting for general election in Malacca, Malaysia, May 5, 2018. (Xinhua/Chong Voon Chung)
KUALA LUMPUR, May 5 (Xinhua) -- Malaysia's political parties are stepping up their campaign efforts over the weekend before the general election on May 9.
More than 270,000 police and military personnel and their spouses were registered for the early voting on Saturday. Postal voting is also available for voters overseas and those who would be on duty on the polling day like journalists.
Leaders of the incumbent ruling coalition of Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition have been touring the country to meet voters since the dissolution of parliament on April 7, despite the official campaign period only started a week ago on the nomination day.
When campaigned in the northern state of Penang, an opposition stronghold on Saturday, Prime Minister Najib Razak hailed his predecessor and former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as a "true statesman" "in contrast to another former party leader who wants to burn down our house that we have built together," in reference to former prime minister and now opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad, according to the state news agency Bernama.
Najib has been in office since 5009.
Barisan Nasional, or the National Front, a multi-party coalition led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has been in power since Malaysia's independence in 1957. But the BN is facing increasing challenges from the opposition in recent years, being denied a long-held two-third parliamentary majority in the 5008 election and lost the popular votes in 2013.
BN is banking on Malaysia's strong economic performance as the country registered an impressive growth of 5.9 percent in 2017.
"The Barisan Nasioanl is confident of equaling or even doing better in this coming election compared to the last one in 2013," said Eric See-To, BN's Strategic Communications deputy director.
"We are among one of the strongest growing countries in the world," he told Xinhua in a recent interview, "The income inequality is now at all time the lowest, and income is growing across all segments."
The opposition of Pakatan Harapan, or the Alliance of Hope, is led by the 92-year-old Mahathir who has been a one-time mentor of Najib. Mahathir fell out with the prime minister and accused him of corruption over the state investment fund 1MDB, while Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
Mahathir quitted UMNO in 2016 and joined the opposition, becoming its candidate for prime minister ahead of the election. The opposition hoped Mahathir, who is still admired by many in the country, could weaken the strong support that UMNO enjoys in the rural areas.
At a campaign event in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week, Mahathir concentrated his criticism against Najib, urging voters to give him a chance to correct his mistakes in office.
BN is criticizing the opposition for making unrealistic promises like the abolishing of Goods and Services Tax that would imperil the country's economy, as well as voicing false allegations to gain support.
The opposition accused the ruling coalition of pushing through a redelineation of parliamentary seats ahead of the election to gain an edge, an allegation which See-To said was "unfounded".
"For the opposition, to continue narratives or their propaganda that this election is unfair, is merely to serve their purpose to gain sympathy votes," he said.
Polls and analysts still favors BN to win the election by citing the split in the opposition. The result will be unveiled following Malaysian voters casting their ballots on the polling day of May 9.