KUALA LUMPUR - The Ismail Sabri Yaakob government is set to bring forward Budget 2023 by three weeks to Oct 7, paving the way for Malaysia's general election to be held in November, 10 months before it is due.
Several sources including a minister told The Straits Times that the decision was made at a Cabinet meeting on Friday morning (Aug 26) and comes a day ahead of a showdown at the Umno assembly where the ruling party is expected to press the premier to dissolve Parliament as soon as possible.
“They could dissolve the following week, and use goodies promised in the budget as an election manifesto,” said a source advising a minister.
However, a top official said that the government could still wait till end-November, after the budget passes, before seeking the King's assent to dissolve Parliament. This would mean the election might be held at the end of January, just after the Chinese New Year celebrations.
It is unlikely that Prime Minister Ismail will plan for Malaysians to head to the ballots between late November and early January, due to the annual monsoon floods during these months that displace thousands and cause billions of ringgit in damage.
The premier himself did not confirm the change but pointed out that “it is normal” to table the budget earlier, saying that Tun Abdullah Badawi - in power from 2003 to 2009 - had presented the annual supply Bill in September.
Elections must be held within 60 days of Parliament's dissolution although typically a month will be given to allow time for candidates to be nominated and voters to cast their ballots on polling day.
De facto law minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar confirmed that the budget will be unveiled on Oct 7 in a statement explaining that the final parliamentary session of the year needed to be brought forward to allow time to complete the government’s legislative agenda.
But he told news website Malaysiakini that the Cabinet meeting did not discuss the next general election.
Instead, he claimed that “I was the one who tabled the paper for the change of date (for Parliament to sit). We have five outstanding Bills that we tabled for the first reading in the last session and must be completed.”
“It’s a bit late to have it (the budget session) by end of October,” he was reported as saying by Malaysiakini.
The brought-forward budget comes on the back of reports that Umno’s political bureau, led by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, told party vice-president Ismail on Wednesday to call for polls immediately or face the sack.
However, Umno secretary general Ahmad Maslan has said no such demands were made of Prime Minister Ismail, describing such claims as “slander”.
The party meeting was held a day after influential former premier Najib Razak was sent to jail after failing to win a final appeal against a 12-year sentence related to the 1MDB scandal.
Umno leaders in the party who support Zahid and Najib have long called for the national vote to be held as soon as possible, to capitalise on Umno's supermajority wins over a divided opposition in two state polls in the past year.
But critics have accused the two politicians, who face graft charges in court, of wanting early polls in order to influence the outcome of their cases. Both men have denied those claims.