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Malaysian elections: 'There's big corruption, a lot of state abuse'


David Chin disembarks from the Causeway Express bus that links Singapore to Malaysia’s southernmost state, Johor.

The bellboy from the Royal Plaza Hotel in Orchard is among the 2.5 million young Malaysians preparing to vote in their first election. From Johor he’s flying to Sabah where he will mark his ballot - alongside all 14 members of his family - for the Opposition People’s Alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim.

“Malaysia is going bankrupt,” he says, “there’s a big corruption problem, there are security problems and a lot of government abuse.”

Mr Chin dislikes the government’s race-based policies. His concerns aren’t uncommon as you walk around Johor, where Chinese voters are moving away from the government’s National Front coalition in their droves.

“It’s not a fair education system - it’s no good, our deputy Prime Minister says education is for Malays first - he says publicly that there is no building quota for Chinese schools.”

The rocket logo of Mr Anwar’s alliance is heavily outnumbered on the streets of Johor today, as the nation prepares to head to the polls tomorrow.

The blue flag of the National Front is everywhere: across rooftops, on bicycle racks, in shop windows and along every inch of expressways.

But it is fluttering nervously in the wind.

A traditional stronghold for the government coalition, Johor’s fortifications held firm in 2008 but are creaking in 2013 and Prime Minister Najib Razak faces the fight of his life to prevent the People’s Alliance (PR) from wresting it from his control in Sunday’s poll.

Election fever has gripped this state, it’s the talk of the town and no inch of the roadside is without the friendly face of a local candidate and the ‘X’ for ‘yes’.

Heading west on the Iskandar Coastal Highway, election posters and flags line the route with hawker (food) centres adorned in blue bunting.

We drive past signs of Johor’s past struggles - a large, run down shopping centre sits vacated on the side of the road; but Iskandar, an economic development corridor, has brought growth and investment to the border town. English universities such as Southampton, Newcastle and Marlborough College all have campuses in the region now; Pinewood studios, of James Bond fame, has also taken advantage of Iskandar’s low tax rates to set up shop in Johor.

Those are signs that the current government has done its job, says Zul Norin, a local taxi driver. He says he doesn’t trust Anwar “the Rocket Man” - a reference to the People’s Alliance rocket logo. “He’ll take our money and fly it to the moon - he’s very clever, he’s a good speaker... but his morals aren’t good,” he says.

Iskandar nestles in the electorate of Gelang Patah, where the Democratic Action Party’s Kim Lit Siang, a heavyweight in Malaysian politics and part of Anwar’s People’s Alliance, will challenge the incumbent Abdul Ghani Othman in a battle dubbed the “clash of the titans”.

Preparations are undeway for Saturday’s final rally by the opposition in the town of Kulai, where Johor’s young, mobile phone-armed voters will flock in their tens of thousands. The stadium-sized rallies have defined the countdown to election day - huge numbers have turned up to hear speeches by Opposition candidates: in Penang, north of Kuala Lumpur, 80,000 attended one rally this week. Most of the recruiting is done through SMS, social media and word of mouth.

“They’re getting all the people together,” says Mr Chin, “to show the government that they have the numbers and to show the government that the people are awakening.”

Lee Chaun Hau, a student at the University of Technology in Johor, says the government doesn’t need to change; he acknowledges that corruption is a problem but that no government is without corruption. Despite this, a majority of his friends are set to vote for Mr Anwar on Sunday.

“Most of them want to change this government,” he says, “and if the new government doesn’t do the job, then they’ll change it back.”