KL buzzing with talk that Najib may call early polls

Mr Najib at a Ramadan Blessings event in his Pekan home town in Pahang on Wednesday. The Malaysian Prime Minister seems to have recovered from fending off a corruption scandal tied to state fund 1MDB in the past year. Observers say he may call an ele
Mr Najib at a Ramadan Blessings event in his Pekan home town in Pahang on Wednesday. The Malaysian Prime Minister seems to have recovered from fending off a corruption scandal tied to state fund 1MDB in the past year. Observers say he may call an election before the current government's five-year mandate expires in 2018.PHOTO: FACEBOOK

Divided opposition and recent victories may lead the PM to call general election next year

Prime Minister Najib Razak is on a political rebound as he recovers from fending off a corruption scandal tied to state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) in the past year, raising some buzz that he will call a general election (GE) next year.

From his viewpoint, the ground is sweet. The Malaysian opposition is badly split, he won state elections in Sarawak and by-elections in Selangor and Perak, and his nemesis Tun Mahathir Mohamad has failed to ignite much voter interest with his Save Malaysia campaign.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) government last monthentered the fourth year of its five-year mandate, with a GE not due until 2018.

Still, there is some expectation that Datuk Seri Najib will call an early election, with a chance that it might be in the first half of next year, politicians and analysts say.

Former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam said if it were up to him, the nationwide polls would be held next year.

GRAB THE OPPORTUNITY

Strike while the iron is hot. If they keep waiting, the opposition will regain their unity.

FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TUN MUSA HITAM, saying that if it were up to him, the nationwide polls would be held next year.


THIS YEAR OR NEXT YEAR?

I can only say the general election will be held after Hari Raya. But as to which year's Hari Raya, I don't know.

PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK, when asked by reporters when he would call an election.

"Strike while the iron is hot. If they keep waiting, the opposition will regain their unity," he told the Sin Chew Daily on Tuesday.

Asked by reporters yesterday when he would call an election, Mr Najib said: "I can only say the general election will be held after Hari Raya. But as to which year's Hari Raya, I don't know." This year's Hari Raya Puasa falls on July 6.

With opposition parties split between Pakatan Harapan and the Umno-leaning Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), two-thirds of seats in the next GE could be three-cornered fights that are advantageous to BN, unless the opposition can hammer out a deal, said political scientist Wong Chin Huat.

The 62-year-old Prime Minister is now more secure than ever.

"He is very much more confident now because, despite Mahathir's campaigning, we won," said an aide to a senior minister.

"We are recovering from the dismissals of Muhyiddin and Shafie," the aide added, referring to deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Cabinet minister Shafie Apdal who were sacked for raising questions over 1MDB.

Though the prospect is tempting, Mr Najib is unlikely to call an election this year, according to observers. This is because he needs to tackle several major issues that have riled voters, including a weak economy and the goods and services tax that has spiked street inflation.

There is also concern in his camp that while the 1MDB issue was largely cast aside by voters in Sarawak, Sungai Besar (Selangor) and Kuala Kangsar (Perak), it will re-emerge in urban constituencies should an election be called.

At the same time, overseas investigations into 1MDB, including by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, are still ongoing.

Another major issue is fund-raising. Campaign funds are typically used to print flags and T-shirts, feed and house campaigners, and buy bags of rice and home appliances to be given to voters. No one knows for sure how much political parties spend on their campaigning.

Mr Najib's younger brother Nazir Razak gave some insight into the campaign sums involved.

He said in April he helped disburse US$7 million (S$9.4 million) just before the 2013 GE to "party machinery", which he believed "came from legit political fund-raising".

Malaysia's 14th general election will be the second time that Mr Najib is leading his ruling coalition.

In 2013, BN lost the popular vote for the first time, garnering 47 per cent of all valid votes against 51 per cent for the opposition. BN won only 133 seats in the 222-seat federal Parliament, but regained Kedah and Perak states from the opposition.

Still, BN will be making a mistake if it thinks the opposition will just roll over and surrender.

"For GE14, our doors are open for fresh negotiations (with PAS)," said Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, chief secretary of Pakatan Harapan. "But at the same time, we must be prepared for many three-cornered fights."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'KL buzzing with talk that Najib may call early polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe