March 22, 2018 / 8:49 AM / a year ago

Eyebrows raised as Malaysia set to redraw electoral boundaries before polls

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak walks beside his deputy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi during the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) general assembly in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government will on Wednesday seek parliamentary approval to redraw electoral boundaries, a move critics say will benefit his ruling coalition in national polls.

Copies of the planned redelineation exercise were handed to members of parliament on Thursday.

The Southeast Asian country is gearing up for national elections that have to be called by August, with sources telling Reuters that polls may be held as early as April. Najib’s coalition is widely expected to retain power.

The motion to redraw electoral boundaries will likely be approved by parliament, as it only requires a simple majority vote. Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition currently holds 132 out of the 222 seats in parliament.

The redelineation exercise had been delayed for months due to legal challenges and objections by the opposition, which has said repeatedly that it would carve out constituencies along racial lines and benefit Najib’s ruling pact.

The government denies the accusation.

Electoral boundaries were last changed in 2003, under the leadership of then-premier Mahathir Mohamad, who was also accused of manipulating the process in favour of the ruling coalition, which has held power since independence from Britain in 1957.

Mahathir, 92, who led Malaysia for 22 years, is now running as the opposition’s candidate for prime minister against Najib, his former protege.

Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; editng by Praveen Menon and Nick Macfie

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