More time needed to fix issues so Malaysia's GE14 unlikely this year: Sin Chew Daily columnist

A truck carrying harvested oil palm passing through Felda Sahabat plantation in Lahad Datu in Sabah, East Malaysia on Feb 20, 2013. Felda settlers are a crucial support base for Umno and there has been much unease over recent losses at its FGV unit.
A truck carrying harvested oil palm passing through Felda Sahabat plantation in Lahad Datu in Sabah, East Malaysia on Feb 20, 2013. Felda settlers are a crucial support base for Umno and there has been much unease over recent losses at its FGV unit.PHOTO: REUTERS

PETALING JAYA(SIN CHEW DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - An increasing number of people are believing that the 14th Malaysian general election will not be held this year, because Umno leaders are still troubled by a host of political and economic issues while the general public still lack a "feel good" sense.

Among the political headaches include the strong backlash from follow-up developments of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) fund scandal, involving palm oil producer Felda Global Ventures (FGV) that will hurt the fundamental support base of Felda settlements, and the ambiguous attitudes of Malay voters.

The US Justice Department's latest court filing has been detrimental to Umno in two ways: the RM2.6 billion (S$842 million) and the mention of "wife of Malaysian Official 1" for a total of 13 times.

Umno leaders are now attempting to describe DOJ's action as intervention by foreign forces and political conspiracy linked to the opposition.

The Malay media only reported Umno ministers' denial and counter-attacks, and we have no way of knowing how much the actual information has reached the village folks. However, urban folks are more open to a variety of information sources and the DOJ's move is poised to leave a negative mark on ruling coalition Barisan Nasional's (BN) electoral preparations in cities and towns.

Meanwhile, the FGV issue will not get resolved in a short time by replacing the chairman.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has appointed Telekom Malaysia's chairman Sulaiman Mahbob as FGV's acting chairman, while former FGV chairman Isa Samad is now acting chairman of Land Public Transport Commission (Spad).

Obviously this is a form of political compromise, as the Umno leadership is concerned about possible backlash from the grassroots by removing Tan Sri Isa, given the fact that he is the MP for Jempol in Negeri Sembilan.

Such an arrangement will avert a possible conflict, but what should come first is the feelings of the people and not pushing the problem from one institution to another.

What about the destiny of the four senior FGV personnel? Will FGV's business improve within a year? The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) must also clarify the reports of internal corruption within FGV as well as CEO Zakaria Arshad's accusation against the board of directors.

The biggest problem in the country's economy lies with the fact that the people do not feel the robust economic expansion (5.6 per cent growth in the first quarter), but the constantly rising prices that have taken a heavy toll on the purchasing power of the lower and middle income groups.

The government dug a total of RM41.2 billion (S$13.3 billion) in goods and service tax (GST) from the consumers' pockets last year, resulting in a cash crunch in the market. Shockingly, the Customs Department planned to impose the 6 per cent GST on more than 60 food items under seven categories with effect from July 1. Fortunately the decision has been reversed.

It may have had the intention of imposing GST on food items as a result of unsatisfactory tax collection this year. Nevertheless, potato, maize, noodles etc are everyday items and the department has lacked political sensitivity in this matter.

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Board  (LHDN) is aggressively going after tax evaders, and this has dampened the overall business environment because high-income individuals strive to take a low profile lest they are targeted by LHDN.

Even civil servants who have been well taken care of by the government are feeling the pinch, affecting their confidence towards BN.

I personally feel that Umno leaders will need a little more time to fix the economy and politics before finalising the election date.

Firstly, the 60th Merdeka (independence) celebrations and SEA Games will help dilute the negative sentiment while the mega projects begin to take form, including the MRT and East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) projects which make perfect subjects for BN's propaganda.

The visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma in October are expected to bring some good news, including possible breakthrough in the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail project and the participation of 1,500 SMEs in the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ).

Datuk Seri Najib is also expected to introduce people-friendly measures when tabling the 2018 Budget on Oct 27.

That said, BN is encountering funding problems in creating that "feel good" atmosphere. It needs cash to launch its political agenda and implement economic stimulation measures.

Mr Najib is a very cautious, risk-averse man. The loss of seats by the Conservative Party of British Prime Minister Theresa May in early June in a hastily conducted election should serve as a warning.

Given the fact that political and economic developments have not progressed as anticipated, it is very likely that he will once again wait until the last minute before he dissolves Parliament.

To us, it will be another long wait ahead.