KUALA LUMPUR - The Election Commission (EC) has started gearing up for the next general election, conducting briefings for volunteers amid a push by some politicians for the polls to be held this year, ahead of a September 2023 deadline.
A volunteer who declined to be named told The Straits Times that she has received instructions to get ready for election duties.
She had volunteered as a polling and counting agent during the last general election in 2018, and said the briefing then was carried out about a month or so before the election took place.
"There were briefings by the EC last Monday (June 13) and Tuesday. They did not give a date but they told us to standby for the election," she said.
Teachers from schools which are designated polling centres have also been called up for the briefings as they will be roped in as volunteers, she added.
However, there is no confirmation yet as to when the polls will be held.
EC deputy chairman Azmi Sharom told ST: "The EC sets the date of election when Parliament is dissolved. Only the politicians know when that is. Training is done on a fairly regular basis so as to be prepared. After all, we don't know when elections are to be called."
According to a June 16 statement on the EC website, the latest electoral roll now includes voters who turned 18 as at end-May, following the implementation of automatic registration under Malaysia's so-called Undi18 legislation.
The law, which came into effect on Dec 15 last year, lowered the voting age to 18 from 21 and allows for automatic voter registration.
It will add some 5.8 million first-time voters to the electoral roll - a 40 per cent increase from the country's 14.8 million eligible voters at the last general election in 2018.
More volunteers and voting centres will likely be needed to cater for the larger electorate for the country's 15th general election (GE15).
Some camps within the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition have been calling for a snap general election, following its consecutive state election victories in Melaka and Johor.
But Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, whose party Umno leads BN, has said that elections should not be held until Malaysia has curbed its spiralling inflation.
Mr Hafidzi Razali, a senior analyst at risk consultancy Bower Group Asia, said Datuk Seri Ismail, who is Umno vice-president, needs time to consolidate his position within the party.
"He needs certainty that he will not just be a figurehead or be replaced after delivering favourable results for Umno-BN at GE15. It will make more sense for GE15 to be held early next year," he said.
"Beyond internal politics, PM Ismail's priority is to resolve various economic challenges which will require unpopular decisions, and he will need more time to soften the consequential reputational impact on Umno-BN."
However, the longer the election is delayed, the slimmer the chances of BN winning.
Sociopolitical analyst Awang Azman Pawi from Universiti Malaya noted that opposition parties remain fractured for now, but if they form an alliance, BN will find it harder to win the next election.
He said delaying the polls on the basis of tackling inflation was not a strong reason as "more economic problems may crop up and rising inflation will be harder to control".
A report by Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research released on Wednesday (June 22) said it expects the general election in Malaysia to be called in the second half of this year, following BN's state election wins.
"The BN coalition will likely want to capitalise on this momentum in order to regain its former dominant position in Malaysian politics," it said.
In 2018, BN was defeated for the first time in history by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, but PH was toppled by former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin's administration after more than 40 MPs left. Tan Sri Muhyiddin's government was then overturned last year by the Ismail administration.
The Ismail government comprises Umno, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Islam SeMalaysia in an uneasy union.
A general election must be held by September 2023, but many analysts expect it to be called this year. Under Malaysia's Constitution, the prime minister decides when elections are held by advising the King to dissolve Parliament, paving the way for elections to take place within 60 days.