These elections were keenly anticipated by the Malaysian public due to a generalised disaffection with the Barisan Nasional government headed by Datuk Seri Najib Razak. The prime minister was faced with a growing, widespread rejection of his government by the Chinese community as well as sectors of the ethnic Malay community, due to cases of corruption and abuse of power, policies of racial discrimination in favour of the Malay majority, and its handling of the economy. All of these factors brought about a rise in ethnic and religious tensions during his term in office.
The outgoing Malaysian prime minister had his first shot in these elections at winning an electoral majority, given that he came to power in 2009 after the resignation of the then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in a parliamentary term tainted by Barisan Nasional's poor results in the 2008 legislative elections. The electoral campaign this time was very tense, with several major incidents such as the explosion of several devices in Barisan Nasional headquarters.