Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak dissolved Parliament on Wednesday in preparation for a general election, seen as the toughest challenge yet for the ruling coalition after 56 years in power.

The vote is tipped to be the closest ever, driven by concerns over corruption, the rising cost of living and high crime under the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957.

The resurgent opposition, led by charismatic former Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim, has gained traction by pledging to tackle authoritarianism and graft.

But with widespread allegations of vote-rigging, there are fears that the election, which must be staged in the next 60 days but is likely to be held this month, will not be free and fair. In his televised announcement of the dissolution, Mr. Najib urged political parties to observe the rule of law and promised a smooth transition of power if the opposition wins.

He is facing his first test at the ballot box since taking over in 2009, after the coalition lost its traditional two-thirds parliamentary majority in a shock election result.

— AFP