Malaysia gets public holiday for election

Malaysia’s May 9 general election will be a public holiday, after the decision to hold it on a Wednesday sparked allegations that the embattled government was seeking an extra advantage. 
Prime Minister Najib Razak is mired in the 1MDB financial scandal and veteran ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who has come out of retirement to take on his former protege.
It is the first time a general election has been held on a weekday since 1999.
The short campaigning period also sparked anger on social media and allegations from the opposition that the government was engineering a low turnout.
It set an 11-day campaign period compared with 15 days for the 2013 election.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded by declaring a public holiday to allow people to vote.
The Barisan Nasional coalition, which has been in power since independence in the 1957, has seen its popularity slide, partly because of the 1MDB state fund scandal.
At least US$4.5 billion has been siphoned away from the fund since it was set up under the finance ministry in 2009, according to official investigations in the US, Singapore, Switzerland and elsewhere. Najib, who is also finance minister, set up the fund and chaired the fund’s board of advisers until 2016.
The Election Commission says there are 14.9 million voters, including 1.7 million new voters.
Malaysia’s new “fake” news law has been enacted this week amid fears it will gag discussion of 1MDB.
Reports deemed fake will be punishable by a fine of more than US$100,000 and up to six years in jail. It covers reports published in Malaysia or by foreign nationals overseas, as long as they relate to Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen.
“Fake” news is broadly defined as any format with content  wholly or partly false.
Malaysians have offered on social media to give up their flight tickets to help fellow voters return to their constituencies if others are prepared to car-share.
Some have offered free rides to other voters.
Firms have also joined in by offering to pay the travel expenses of voters.
Marble Emporium is offering staff three days off with a RM300 (US$77) allowance and says it will buy air tickets for those returning to their hometowns.
Seksan Design said it was offering employees three days’ paid leave.
Jom Balik Undi, a carpooling initiative by Malaysians working in Singapore, has proved popular.
In Johor Baru, several thousand Malaysians working in Singapore are expected to carpool to return home for polling day.

Thousands of Malaysians work in Singapore. Picture credit: Wikimedia