KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Wednesday announced a general election for May 5, setting a long-awaited date for polls tipped to be the closest ever as the long-ruling government tries to hold off a surging opposition.

Speaking a week after Prime Minister Najib Razak dissolved parliament, Election Commission chairman Aziz Yusof said the two-week official campaign period would begin on April 20.

Election fever has already gripped the country with posters, banners and party flags lining many roads.

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has ruled Malaysia through coalition governments since independence in 1957, faces a formidable opposition that promises to end corruption, cronyism and authoritarian rule.

Under UMNO the country became a regional economic success story, while enjoying relative harmony between the majority ethnic Malays and its sizeable ethnic Indian and Chinese minorities.

Najib hopes to extend the government’s unbeaten run in the polls by focusing on his steady economic stewardship and offering the public a series of cash handouts and other sweeteners.—AFP