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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 03:53 GMT
Malaysia decides on election date
Malaysia PM Abdullah Badawi
Analysts expect voters to rally behind the prime minister
Malaysia will hold its snap election on 21 March, the country's electoral commission has announced.

The parliamentary poll, announced by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Wednesday, will pit his coalition against the Islamic opposition Pas.

Campaigning will begin immediately, with candidates required to lodge their nominations by 13 March.

The opposition, which is facing an uphill task, had called for a campaign period of at least three weeks.

Veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said last week that only then could the election be "free, fair and clean".

Under election law, the campaigning period can last between seven and 60 days.

Economic boost

Correspondents say victory for the governing Barisan Nasional coalition is hardly in doubt.

But Mr Abdullah will want to gain a more convincing victory than his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad, managed at the last elections in 1999.

This time, the government will benefit from a much-improved economy.

But it is having to deal with allegations that a Malaysian company connected with the prime minister's son, Kamaluddin Abdullah, was involved in making nuclear components which were seized on their way to Libya.

The government's term was due to expire in November.

In all, 219 parliamentary seats will be contested, with 10 million people eligible to vote.

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