In less than 24 hours, residents of Malaysia’s coastal capital of Kuala Terengganu will be casting their votes.

As campaigning for the crucial by-election enters its final lap, the opposition has accused the ruling Barisan Nasional government of vote buying and coercion.

This came after the returning officer, who is also the city mayor, resigned after he was allegedly caught pressuring his staff to vote for the government.

At a news conference on Friday, both the Election Commission chairman and his deputy defended their officer.

Abdul Aziz Yusuf, chairman, Election Commission, said: “He is a very good RO who has carried out his duty very well.”

Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, deputy chairman, Election Commission, said: “So don’t disturb him anymore, I think he did a responsible thing. We’ve closed the case and appointed a new returning officer. He’s not doing anything wrong because election has yet to happen. It’s only starting January 17.”

But opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is accusing BN of vote buying.

“It’s clearly absurd – he’s a retuning officer and he’s supposed to be a person who’s impartial, who would conduct the election fairly and professionally,” said Mr Anwar who also accused prime minister-designate Najib Razak of trying to seek endorsement for his leadership.

The power transition was hammered out between him and Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi late last year.

“Najib is playing a very prominent role here. He’s saying to everybody we have to win at all costs. You can see how police, Election Commission, government servants and teachers have all been threatened to support them,” added Mr Anwar.

BN, which suffered its worst electoral setback last March, has hoped to turn the tide on the opposition and regain its appeal in Kuala Terengganu.

PM Abdullah was seen criss-crossing the capital in the 11th hour to drum up support for BN candidate Wan Farid Wan Salleh.

Earlier, he also met Chinese voters who are seen as key in winning the poll as the predominantly Malay electorate is split down the middle.

On the other hand, opposition PAS candidate Abdul Wahid Endut has been rather low key, making minimal house calls as the campaign draws to a close.

By the stroke of midnight, all sides must cease their campaigning, but security remains tight in and around the state capital with as many as 6,000 riot police on duty to ensure a smooth running of poll where many said is still too close to call.