Prime Minister Najib Razak's announcement sets the stage for a election contest against seasoned politician Mahathir Mohamad.

Prime Minister Najib Razak announces the dissolution of parliament as he addresses the nation during a live telecast in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 6, 2018.
Prime Minister Najib Razak announces the dissolution of parliament as he addresses the nation during a live telecast in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on April 6, 2018. (AFP)

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the dissolution of parliament on Friday, paving the way for a tough election where the embattled leader will face off against his old mentor and the country's most seasoned campaigner Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib, 64, burdened by a multi-billion dollar scandal linked to a state fund, is under pressure to deliver an emphatic win for his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition as he struggles to appease Malaysians unhappy with rising costs and blunt the challenge from the still charismatic 92-year-old Mahathir.

Najib is widely expected to retain power, especially with a deep rift between Mahathir's opposition alliance and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which analysts expect will split the opposition vote.

TRT World spoke with Teresa Krug in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Najib said he met Malaysia's king, Sultan Muhammad V, to gain approval for the dissolution.

"The king has permitted for parliament to be dissolved effective Saturday, April 7," Najib said in a special announcement on the state TV broadcaster.

"If victory is given to BN, we promise to do our best, to carry out a bigger, more inclusive and more comprehensive transformation of the country," Najib said.

Election in 60 days

Polling must be held within 60 days from the dissolution of parliament.

The Election Commission is expected to meet within the week to announce a date for the vote.

Najib's announcement comes on the back of robust growth for Malaysia, buoyed by a recovery in global crude oil prices and increased trade and infrastructure investment from Malaysia's largest trading partner, China.

A general election was widely expected to be called last year, but Najib held off, apparently to allow time for the introduction of budgetary reforms aimed at lower income families and rural voters, who make up a key voting bloc for his ruling BN coalition.

The government has also approved the election commission's plan to redraw electoral boundaries and passed a contentious anti-fake news bill, changes that the opposition claims would favour Najib and his ruling allies.

Najib's United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party heads the ruling coalition that has held power since Malaysia's independence in 1957. The coalition lost the popular vote in the last election, in 2013, but Najib held on to power with a smaller majority in parliament.

But a weaker result, even if the coalition retains power, could lead to an internal leadership challenge against Najib.

Corruption scandal

Najib resisted demands to step down in mid-2015 following reports of financial mismanagement at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), including that $681 million was deposited into his personal bank account.

Najib has denied any wrongdoing. Transactions related to 1MDB are under investigation in six countries including the United States, Singapore and Switzerland.

Najib has clamped down on dissent, sacking critics from his cabinet and party who questioned his involvement in 1MDB.

The scandal has created a rift between Najib and 92-year-old Mahathir, who ruled for 22 years before retiring in 2003, and has become Najib's harshest critic.

With the common goal of taking down Najib, Mahathir has joined hands with his former deputy and jailed opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, ending a bitter feud that had shaped the country's political narrative over two decades.

Source: Reuters