Malaysia polls likely to be held later this year, say analysts as political parties gear up for campaign
KUALA LUMPUR: Over the weekend, the Malaysian political scene was a hive of activity as several key parties and coalitions huddled to firm up their plans for the upcoming general election.
This came after the government said last Friday (Aug 26) that it will bring forward the tabling of the 2023 budget to Oct 7, fuelling talk that Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob might dissolve parliament soon.
The 15th general election is not due until September next year, but the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), a main component party in the ruling coalition, has intensified its calls for the dissolution of parliament. This is a move that would pave the way for the next general election.
On Saturday, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi held a special briefing for party grassroots and again pressed the prime minister to hold snap polls.
“We have been consistent in calling for the elections to be held because we want a government built on the people’s mandate, rather than by political machinations … We are firm on our stance that the general election must be held immediately,” he said.
Mr Ismail Sabri and some UMNO Cabinet ministers such as Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Communications and Multimedia Minister Annuar Musa as well as Federal Territories Minister Shahidan Kassim were notably absent from the briefing.
At Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) convention, which was also held on Saturday, the coalition’s chairman Muhyiddin Yassin said that it was possible that the election would be announced immediately after this year’s budget is tabled on Oct 7. “We are ready to face the general election at any time,” he stated.
Meanwhile, Mr Anwar Ibrahim, the president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), said at his party’s election convention: “We will be fully ready by October (to face GE15) because Budget 2023 will be tabled in October. As we know, that means elections will be called soon.”
On Sunday, Mr Ismail Sabri would only say “Tunggu, tunggu, tunggu (wait, wait, wait)” when asked if parliament would be dissolved so that snap polls can be held, according to a report by the Star.
Analysts interviewed by CNA said that the signs point to polls being called later this year.
WHAT DOES BRINGING FORWARD THE BUDGET MEAN?
Last Friday, the prime minister told reporters that the decision to bring forward the tabling of next year’s budget is not unusual.
"This is normal. During Pak Lah's (former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) time, the budget was tabled in September," he reportedly said.
However, analysts told CNA that this was a sign of impending elections.
Political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian of University Sains Malaysia (USM) said that bringing forward of the budget date was an indication that the election was around the corner and that all parties must be prepared for it.
“All parties are supposed to be prepared for the election being held at any time now. They can’t be saying that it must be held later because historically elections are usually held after four years,” he said.
Dr Jeniri Amir, a senior fellow with the National Professors Council noted that bringing forward the tabling of the budget was actually an unusual occurrence. The council is appointed by the government.
“It shows that there are certain political reasons for it (tabling of the budget), such as the impending general election.”
He said it was highly likely that the parliament would be dissolved after the tabling of the budget as was done by the then prime minister Mahathir Mohamed in 1999, with elections then held in November that year.
WHAT IS THE STATE OF PLAY WITHIN UMNO?
There are signs of divisions within UMNO, with Ahmad Zahid openly calling for snap polls.
It was reported that during a supreme council meeting, which was attended by both Zahid and Mr Ismail Sabri last Saturday, the latter was threatened with expulsion if he refused to call for a general election this year.
On Tuesday, Mr Ismail Sabri refuted the media reports. He was quoted as saying by the Star that the Saturday meeting was warm and cordial.
"There is no issue. Sometimes, people outside look at things differently whereas the situation inside is different. There is no issue in UMNO; we respect differences of opinion,” he said, according to the Star report.
Dr Pandian of USM said that the weekend proceedings have put pressure on the prime minister to dissolve parliament soon.
“It depends to what extent he is able to find a win-win situation within the party. If he continues not to follow the party’s (stand), then it is something he has to think about because he is supposed to be the poster boy for Barisan Nasional (BN) and not for the opposition parties,” he said.
Dr Jeniri of the National Professors Council believes that as a party man, Mr Ismail Sabri would have to take the views of the top five in the party, the supreme council and the grassroots seriously.
“I think that he will finally abide by the party position. It is not Ahmad Zahid alone but the grassroots that have been calling for an election, he said.
IS THERE AN EMERGING NARRATIVE ON WHEN TO HOLD ELECTIONS?
Associate Professor Awang Azman Pawi of the University of Malaya’s Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel) told CNA that the next window for the election is in November.
“If it is not in November, then the next window would be March of next year after Chinese New Year,” he said, adding that December was the flooding and holiday season.
He said that those in UMNO would want the election to be held as soon as possible as delaying it could disadvantage them.
He believes that if the election is held next year, BN’s chances of winning would be slimmer as the world economy might worsen with the Ukraine-Russia war.
Dr Jeniri added that as the month of December usually sees monsoon flooding, it is more likely that the polls will be held in November.
“Most likely the parliament will be dissolved after the budget. It will take a few weeks after the dissolution to have the nomination day, campaigning and then polling,” he said.
Dr Pandian of USM shares a similar view. He posited that if parliament is dissolved after the tabling of the budget, then the elections are likely to be held at the end of October or early November.
“Looking at the momentum, it is highly likely the polls will be held this year, although the prime minister would rather hold the elections next year. At the end of the day, it is the prerogative of the prime minister,” he said.