KUALA LUMPUR - Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz has denied that Budget 2023 will be brought forward to allow Parliament to be dissolved earlier, amid growing speculation over whether Malaysia will go to the polls by November.
Talk of the budget being tabled in late September or early October were "just rumours", he told reporters on Sunday (Aug 7).
"To my knowledge it is still the same as per Parliament's calendar for Oct 28," said Datuk Seri Zafrul, who was last week made treasurer of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional's (BN) Selangor chapter.
His appointment has accelerated talk that Umno is putting on its final touches ahead of a general election later this year.
Mr Zafrul, currently a senator, had this week confirmed that he was seeking to run for election so he can "continue fiscal reform in the longer term".
Meanwhile on Saturday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waved away concerns that Perikatan Nasional (PN) - the largest coalition in his government - may pull its support due to alleged unfair treatment, insisting he was ready to face an election if necessary.
"Our country practises a democratic system, so... if there is a withdrawal of support for example, if the government falls... there is no choice for us but to hold an election. The government is ready in any situation," he said.
Datuk Seri Ismail, who is also Umno vice-president, downplayed the possibility of snap polls, adding that the threat of withdrawal "is not the party's official statement, maybe it is from one or two people". He said there were members of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which heads PN, "who said the matter was not brought into the party's official meeting".
The PN alliance is chaired by former premier Muhyiddin Yassin, whose Bersatu has been unhappy that Mr Ismail's promise of Cabinet posts to the party, including the role of deputy premier, has remained unfulfilled.
Top Bersatu officials told The Straits Times that while the party is unhappy that the premier had cancelled an official meeting with PN last Thursday and instead chose to speak to just two leaders from the coalition, there has been no discussion about pulling out due to Cabinet positions.
Instead, what was deliberated was whether PN should pull out if BN continued keeping government resources for its own MPs.
Bersatu deputy president Faizal Azumu was reported as saying he was less bothered by the deputy premiership than the withholding of development allocations from Bersatu politicians.
Information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan also criticised Mr Ismail and Umno president Zahid Hamidi for implying last week that BN ministers from Selangor could bring "sweets" and help "oil" the coalition's machinery in Malaysia's richest state.
The ruling Umno is mulling over a general election before the year-end monsoon, which has repeatedly caused catastrophic flooding from late November to January.
However, while BN secretary-general Zambry Kadir confirmed that the coalition's top leaders will meet on Aug 15, following last Thursday's Umno supreme council meeting, he said that the agenda would not include election timing.
"Traditionally, we have and still hold to the fact that it is the Prime Minister's prerogative to decide when is best to call an election. We did discuss election preparations because whatever it is, our focus is on our own readiness," he told The Straits Times, referring to the party supreme council, which he is a senior member of.
He also said that while Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, as BN's election director, has completed a tour of six states to collect feedback and information, he is expected to complete a nationwide report only at the end of the month and not in time for the Aug 15 meeting.
This would still afford a reasonable window to table Budget 2023 earlier but both PM Ismail as well as Zahid have indicated that some reforms, such as regulating political funding, should be completed before Parliament is dissolved. This would require extra days, beyond those allocated for the Budget, for lawmakers to deliberate the necessary legislation.