efe-epaKuala Lumpur

The prime minister of Malaysia called on voters to follow the road to progress as the country went to the polls in general elections Wednesday.

Najib Razak, candidate for re-election from the National Front (Barisan Nasional) coalition, in power since the country's independence in 1957, expressed this hope after casting his ballot in Pekan, east of Kuala Lumpur.

Leader of the opposition and candidate from the Alliance of Hope coalition (Pakatan Harapan), former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, expressed the need for a change of government after voting in Lankgkawi in the north-west.

Polling stations in opened at 8am (0000 GMT) for the general election that is considered one of the most hard-fought since the country's independence.

More than 14 million voters can cast their ballots until 17.00 (0900 GMT).

Several hours into the elections, polling stations in Kuala Lumpur remained calm and no serious incidents were reported in other cities.

Najib is expected to be the favorite to renew his mandate for a second time after being re-elected in 2013 to continue in the premiership he has held since 2009.

Corruption scandals have tainted Najib's tenure as prime minister in recent years, and the prestige of Mahathir, whose administration between 1981 and 2003 coincided with an economic boom in the country, augurs a very narrow result.

The development of electoral campaigns and the circumstances surrounding the elections have drawn much criticism from civil society groups which cast doubts on the impartiality of the current administration.

The elections have been peppered with irregularities as always happens in the country, Jerald Joseph, a commissioner for the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, told Efe.

Joseph added that the commission has detected money being distributed to voters to draw their support for the ruling coalition.

In an interview with Efe, Noor Farida Arrifin, spokesperson for the non-governmental organization G25, also denounced the politicization of Islam that the current prime minister used to win the vote of the Malay majority, labeling it a dangerous game because it could lead to people being radicalized.

The May 9 vote is not being supervised by the European Union. Several Western countries also declined the invitation to send their observers.

The only states that have sent representatives to observe the poll in Malaysia are Myanmar, Thailand, and some Islamic states, such as Azerbaijan.

In addition to the main coalitions, the Malaysian Islamist Party (PAS) is also participating in the elections, although it is expected to win only a few seats.

The May 9 election is the 14th in post-1957 Malaysia, a former British colony which is made up of numerous ethnic and religious groups, with a Malay and Muslim majority and Chinese and Indian minorities.