Anwar leads tight race as Malaysia votes

Malaysians have voted in a general election that may fail to end the recent phase of political instability in the Southeast Asian nation as polls predict no clear winner.

The alliance led by veteran opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is forecast to take the most seats in parliament but fail to reach the majority needed to form a government.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's ruling Barisan coalition and another bloc led by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin are other leading contenders.

Muhyiddin's alliance was a junior partner in Ismail's coalition government and the two could come together again to block Anwar.

Without a clear winner, political uncertainty could persist as Malaysia faces slowing economic growth and rising inflation.

It has had three prime ministers in as many years.

If Anwar clinches the top job, it would cap a remarkable journey for a politician who in 25 years has gone from heir apparent to the premiership to a political prisoner convicted of sodomy to the country's leading opposition figure.

"Right now, I think things are looking good and we are cautiously confident," Anwar told reporters after casting his vote in the state of Penang.

Ismail said his coalition was targeting a simple majority but would be open to working with others if it failed to do so.

Malaysia's 21.1 million eligible voters will choose 222 lawmakers for the lower house of parliament.

Polls closed at 6pm (1000 GMT), with results expected to be announced later in the evening.

The top issues are the economy and corruption, as several leaders from the incumbent Barisan Nasional coalition face graft accusations.

Malaysians are also frustrated with political instability, seen as hampering development efforts.

Anwar's bloc is multiethnic, while the other two prioritise the interests of the ethnic-Malay Muslim majority.

Muhyiddin's bloc includes an Islamist party that has touted shariah law.

Opinion polls showed a lead for Anwar, whose more than two decades as an opposition figure includes nine years in jail on sodomy and corruption charges he says were politically motivated.

Independent pollster Merdeka Center forecast Anwar's reformist Pakatan Harapan coalition is on course to take 82 seats, Muhyiddin's Perikatan Nasional alliance 43 seats and Ismail's Barisan 15, with 45 too close to call.

Anwar is the top choice for prime minister at 33 per cent, followed by Muhyiddin at 26 per cent and Ismail at 17 per cent.

Barisan governed for 60 years, from independence until 2018, while Perikatan is a new bloc that has emerged as a strong third force.