Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has dissolved parliament more than a year ahead of schedule, paving the way for a general election.
Mr Badawi's popularity has been eroded in recent months
Electoral officials will meet soon to set a date for the polls, with a ballot in early March widely expected.
The move comes amid rising racial tensions in multi-ethnic Malaysia and growing fears over inflation and crime.
But analysts still expect the ruling coalition to win the election, albeit with a reduced majority.
Mr Badawi made his announcement at a news conference in Malaysia's administrative centre, Putrajaya.
"The king has signed the declaration of dissolution of parliament today," he said.
"We hope to get a big majority, at least two-thirds, God willing."
He gave no reason for his decision, but analysts say he is looking for a fresh mandate before the economy slows.
Another advantage for Mr Badawi of holding the election next month is that charismatic opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim cannot stand for office.
Anwar, who was the country's deputy prime minister before being jailed in 1998 on corruption charges, is barred him from politics until April 2008.
The timing of the election does pose some risks, though, for the ruling coalition.
Late last year a string of rare street protests in the capital exposed a growing unhappiness among some ethnic minorities.
A recent opinion poll also suggested that Mr Badawi's personal popularity had tumbled by 30%.
Nonetheless, according to the BBC's correspondent in Malaysia, Robin Brant, the National Front coalition government and the Malay party Umno which dominates it are virtually assured a healthy victory.
They have won all previous 11 general elections.