KUALA LUMPUR - Calls for snap polls in Malaysia are getting harder to resist for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's ruling pact following the opposition's intractable bickering over its prime ministerial candidate.
The Straits Times understands that some in Perikatan Nasional (PN) wish for ballots as early as August, which would lead to Parliament being dissolved before the government's slim majority can be tested in a highly anticipated July sitting.
Umno, the largest party in PN, believes the public vote will restore its erstwhile dominance and pushed for elections even during the so-called Sheraton Move back in February, which led to the ousting of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's Pakatan Harapan's (PH) government.
Barely three months after Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin - who led about 40 MPs out of PH - was sworn in as premier on March 1, Umno started declaring its readiness for elections which are not due until the third quarter of 2023.
This rhetoric culminated on Thursday, with Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan saying that with Singapore going to the polls on July 10 - six months before the parliamentary term expires - "Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin should do the same without delay".
"The nation cannot continue being dragged into uncertainty and the possibility of a change of government every few months. Only a government that has a mandate and comfortable majority in Parliament can function well," he said.
ST has learnt that Umno, whose six-decade rule came to a shocking end in 2018, is among several parties in the ruling coalition who have already mobilised for an election.
This is especially evident in Sabah, where ongoing efforts to topple Mahathir-allied Chief Minister Shafie Apdal could result in the easternmost state dissolving its legislature.
"Everyone in PN wants it (early elections), especially with PH in shambles," one ruling pact official said.
Meanwhile, the opposition is torn trying to decide whether Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president Anwar Ibrahim or Dr Mahathir should become prime minister in an attempted counter-coup, and the same dilemma applies over who will lead them to the polls.
PH officials are bracing for the possibility that they may end up contesting against each other should the two camps not reconcile, ST has learnt, with leaders from across the opposition - except for Datuk Seri Anwar's PKR - proposing Datuk Seri Shafie as a compromise candidate.
According to official sources, Mr Muhyiddin is considering another round of expenditures, even after Malaysia launched its fourth stimulus package this month to help soften the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This could possibly mean an election budget in November, before the premier seeks a fresh five-year term.
But there is growing concern that with the six-month loan moratorium ending in October and debt payments resuming, a private consumption crunch could halt the economy from rebounding.
In an exclusive report, ST revealed on June 12 that the premier has been gearing up to claim his own mandate amid accusations his PN government was formed via defections and not through clear victory at the polls and lacks parliamentary majority.
Bersatu supreme councillor Wan Saiful Wan Jan had confirmed that the "PM has been meeting grassroots rank-and-file and has also instructed all party leaders to ramp up election preparation".
Mr Muhyiddin's legitimacy has been questioned by predecessor Mahathir, who insisted that he still commanded 115 MPs on March 1 - three more than the 112 needed to control Parliament.
The federal legislature's meetings in March were postponed and the one-day sitting on May 18 ended without any debate, although there were 114 MPs who sat in the government bench during the King's 45-minute opening speech.
This means the first real test of the premier's majority will be during the session scheduled for July 13 to Aug 25. But should an August election be called, Parliament could be dismissed prior to reconvening, as polling day must fall within 60 days of dissolution.
Sources say several PN parties are already locked in negotiations over the 222 parliamentary and 505 state assembly seats to be contested.
Although most parties in the fledgling coalition came from the Umno-led Barisan National (BN) and faced numerous elections together, both Bersatu and the Islamist Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) candidates will now have to be accommodated to avoid multi-cornered battles.
Some PN strategists believe their combined support among Malays will deliver nearly all of the roughly 120 seats needed for majority and even help push towards a two-thirds supermajority of at least 148 MPs, a comfortable situation last enjoyed by BN prior to the 2008 election.