KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s southernmost state Johor will head to the polls in 60 days after its legislature was dissolved on Saturday (Jan 22) evening.
This confirms a recent report by The Straits Times on a third state election since November, with the results crucial to the timing of national polls that are due only in the third quarter of next year.
“Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has assented to signing the proclamation of dissolution for the Johor state assembly to pave way for a state election,” said the monarch’s Facebook page.
This was after an audience with Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad, who chaired a meeting of Umno’s Johor chapter on Saturday afternoon.
“I have received the mandate from Johor Umno to proceed with the state election,” he told reporters after the meeting.
Datuk Hasni has a majority of one in the 56-seat assembly after a government assemblyman died last month. Umno officials told ST that the potential instability convinced Sultan Ibrahim that a new mandate was necessary despite persistent Covid-19 cases, averaging over 3,000 daily nationwide.
After Umno’s thumping victory in Melaka’s Nov 20 vote, the party has been keen to trigger another ballot in its birthplace of Johor. Another big win for the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition would underline its dominance over awkward governing partner Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) and embarrass its president Muhyiddin Yassin, who hails from the southern state.
This would add momentum for a snap general election that Malaysia’s longest-ruling party believes will restore its formerly iron-clad grip on power which was shaken after a shock defeat in the 2018 polls.
After BN wrested three-quarters of Melaka’s state legislature, the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) - which is part of the current Umno-led government though it officially left BN in 2018 - won 76 out of 82 contests in the Sarawak state elections on Dec 18.
Nonetheless, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is also Umno vice-president, would want to resist an early vote until he can cement his own position in the party riddled with factionalism.
“Regarding the Johor state election, as has been decided in the Umno Supreme Council, it will be left to the state Umno Liaison Body to discuss in terms of preparation and decision making,” he said on Saturday.
Not only is Umno split between those who want to continue cooperation with Bersatu and those who do not, there are also personal agendas within these camps.
Graft charges against top figures, and internal upheaval since its 2018 electoral defeat, which saw former prime minister Najib Razak resigning from the party presidency, have transformed Umno’s previously linear hierarchy into a complicated matrix that has helped Datuk Seri Ismail ascend to the premiership despite holding only the third-highest office in the party. He is the first Malaysian premier who is not a party chief.
Umno president Zahid Hamidi and his predecessor Najib are bogged down with corruption trials, with the latter appealing a conviction related to the 1MDB scandal.