KUALA LUMPUR: It is up to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak if elections will be called after the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, as widely speculated - but his party is gearing up for the possibility, said Malaysia's Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in an exclusive interview with Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday (Aug 14).
"We celebrate our 60th Merdeka Day one day after the closing of the SEA Games (on Aug 30),” he said. “Hopefully on the 30th I can announce we've won overall champions. And then the next day - 60 years of Merdeka (independence). The feel good factor.
"Then, you know, it's up to the Prime Minister."
Asked if this means elections could be called on the back of the celebrations, Khairy said "that's a call for the Prime Minister to make".
"Obviously within the party, we're gearing up, we're preparing ourselves," he said. "I think we want to make sure our machinery is as efficient and as well-oiled as possible so by the time parliament is dissolved, we'll have a rolling start and make sure everything's already in place for us to start campaigning."
The 2017 SEA Games are being hosted by Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur from Aug 19 to 30. This will be the sixth time Malaysia hosts the games.
Malaysia's general elections must be called by August 2018. Some analysts believe Najib will capitalise on the "feel good" vibes of a successful SEA Games, as well as the Independence Day celebrations, to potentially call polls toward the end of September.
CLASHING WITH ASEAN PARA GAMES?
However, if this were the case, the campaigning period could clash with the 2017 ASEAN Para Games, happening between Sep 17 and 23.
Khairy said he had lobbied for the Para Games to be held at the same time as the SEA Games but the proposal had been rejected.
"Logistically it could have happened, no problems, but unfortunately I didn't get the support of all the sports federations. The Olympic councils from the region; they voted against it - not the Para councils but the Olympic councils from Southeast Asia," he said.
"I respect that so we're having it just two weeks after to make sure the momentum is still there."
The minister said he wants there to be just as much attention and excitement for the Para Games as the SEA Games.
"Malaysia's excited for the Para Games because we won three gold medals at the (Rio 2016) Paralympics so it's a big deal for us," he said. "And I'm putting in as much effort, as much resources proportionately, to the Para Games as to the SEA Games."
Malaysia is also giving para athletes a chance to compete alongside able-bodied athletes.
Two Malaysian paralympians are set to make history by being the first para athletes to compete in the SEA Games against able-bodied athletes. Abdul Latif Romly will compete in the long jump competition, while Ziyad Zolkefli will represent Malaysia in shot put.
Both Latif and Ziyad broke world records when they bagged golds at the 2016 Rio Paralympics in the men's long jump T20 (intellectual disability) and the men's shot put F20 (intellectual disability) respectively.