Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak today dissolved the Parliament to call for general elections that may pose a stiff challenge to the ruling coalition’s 56-year rule as it faces a resurgent opposition.

“This morning I met the king and asked for his consent to dissolve the parliament,” Mr. Najib said in a televised speech.

“This dissolution will pave the way for the 13th general election,” he said.

The poll announcement has been awaited for months now. The Election Commission is expected to set a polling date and determine when formal campaigning can begin.

The elections have to be held before June 2.

Mr. Najib advised all the state governments, except Negri Sembilan and Sarawak, also to dissolve their respective state legislative assemblies to allow the state elections to be held simultaneously with the general election. The Negri Sembilan state legislative assembly dissolved automatically on March 28.

The Barisan Nasional coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957 is expected to face a stiff challenge in the polls from the opposition three-party Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact), led by the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy premier.

The Barisan’s current mandate ends on April 30. There are 222 seats in Parliament for mandate and control of 12 of Malaysia’s 13 states.

The polls will be held amid raging internal issues such as corruption, the rising cost of living and crime.

The 13-member coalition mainly comprises of the United Movement of National Malays (UMNO) led by Najib, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) comprising ethnic Chinese and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) which comprises ethnic Indians.

Mr. Najib urged more than 13 million eligible voters to support the Barisan party. He has launched a series of reforms aimed at boosting the economy and granting civil liberties.

“Do not gamble with the fate of our children and grandchildren,” Mr. Najib said, adding that he planned to travel to “all corners of the country” in the weeks ahead to speak to voters and win their confidence.

Mr. Najib marked exactly four years as Prime Minister today.

He succeeded Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who stepped down after the dismal 2008 polls.

The 13th general election will be the first for Mr. Najib as the leader of the Barisan, the Star Online reported.

Barisan scraped through the August 2008 elections with less than a two-thirds parliamentary majority, its poorest showing in more than five decades in power since independence from Britain.

Opposition leader Ibrahim and his opposition alliance wrested control of several states in the August 2008 polls.

The opposition and activists have staged several mass rallies calling for change, including a clean-up of the electoral roll which they say is marred with irregularities, and have reiterated their demand for free and fair elections

Mr. Najib’s government has taken steps to address the demands by introducing the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple-voting and allowing Malaysians abroad to vote by post.

The opposition has dismissed these steps as inadequate.

Mr. Najib has intensified efforts to win back support of the people with measures such as channelling more funds to the poor and abolishing security laws that were widely considered repressive.