By Anuradha Raghu and Lilian Loh
KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 (Reuters) - Malaysia's economic growth likely eased to 5.2 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, the slowest pace of expansion in a year, according to a Reuters poll, as exports sagged in the face of weaker demand for electronics and palm oil.
Strong investment spending across construction, manufacturing and mining is expected to help Southeast Asia's third largest economy regain momentum as the ruling coalition presses on with a $444 billion economic transformation programme after winning elections this month.
Gross domestic product likely moderated in the first three months of 2013 from a 6.4 percent growth rate seen in the fourth quarter, according to a median forecast of 19 economists polled by Reuters. The forecasts ranged from 4.2 to 6.4 percent.
Exports, which make up about 60 percent of the GDP, fell 2.4 percent in the first quarter from a year ago, reflecting the uneven pace of growth in its main markets of China and the United States while the euro zone struggles with recession.
With elections out of the way, economists expect a pick-up in investment activity as the government seeks to fulfill a campaign promise of doubling per capita incomes by 2020.
'Domestic demand will remain firm with rising wages within a tight labour market. Investment is forecast to pick up more, with election uncertainty now settled,' said ANZ economist Daniel Wilson.
Last week, the central bank left the key policy rate at 3.0 percent, unchanged since May 2011. It projects growth at 5-6 percent this year, up from 5.6 percent in 2012.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani) Keywords: MALAYSIA ECONOMY/GROWTH
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