Malaysia's general election will be held on May 5, an electoral official said Wednesday, setting a long-awaited date for highly anticipated polls tipped to be the closest in the country's history.
Speaking a week after Prime Minister Najib Razak dissolved parliament, Election Commission chairman Aziz Yusof also said balloting would be preceded by a two-week official campaign period kicking off on April 20.
The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has controlled Malaysia through coalition governments since independence in 1957, faces a formidable opposition that has gained ground with promises to end corruption, cronyism and authoritarian rule.
The opposition surged to its best showing ever in the 2008 vote, shattering the ruling regime's decades-old aura of invincibility.
Under UMNO, multi-ethnic Malaysia became a regional economic success story while enjoying relative harmony between majority ethnic Malays and its sizeable racial minorities.
Prime Minister Najib hopes to extend the government's unbeaten run in the polls by focusing on his steady economic stewardship and a torrent of cash handouts and other sweeteners to the public.
But the opposition has won support with pledges of a more open era, enjoying unprecedented freedom to get its message past state-controlled mainstream media via an uncensored Internet.
Speculation over a polling date had reached fever pitch in the past two years but Najib set the stage on April 3 by dissolving parliament, which was due to automatically expire at the end of the month.
The UMNO-controlled Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition has romped to thumping majorities in every election so far, but lost its powerful two-thirds majority five years ago.
It now faces the fight of its life against the Pakatan Rakyat (People's Pact) opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim.