Malaysia's general election could be as soon as January, Umno leaders hint

Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi (centre), who is Umno's acting deputy president, said the party will brave through the 14th General Elections "come January or March, or whichever month for that matter". PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's upcoming general election could be held as soon as January, Umno leaders hinted on Tuesday (Dec 5) as the country's biggest political party holds its annual meeting.

Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi, who is Umno's acting deputy president, told the party wings at its launch on Tuesday evening that Umno has to receive a resounding victory at the ballot box.

"The 14th General Elections draw closer... Come January or March, or whichever month for that matter, we will brave through it," said Datuk Seri Zahid.

In a closed door briefing earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also Umno president, mentioned in passing the month of January when speaking to delegates about gearing up for polls.

But not everyone in Umno thinks the hint is literal.

"He said that by January we must be there (ready). It's not the date," said Umno information chief Annuar Musa.

"The message is to do it now, do not delay, settle all the problems, stay focused and get prepared for general elections," Tan Sri Annuar added, when queried by reporters.

Umno, the country's ruling party, has been in power since independence in 1957. At the last election held in May 2013, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional ruling coalition lost the majority vote for the first time.

Umno leaders have been hinting towards polls since last year, but with election due by Aug 2018, the party's top brass is now framing up the timeline.

In Datuk Seri Najib's recent budget announcement, he offered one-off payments to civil servants, village chiefs, and religious figureheads.

The first tranche of the RM1,500 (S$498) payment will be made in January 2018. Meanwhile, popular cash handout for the poor, BR1M, will distribute its first payment in February.

With Umno's community-style politics entrenched in rural and semi-rural areas where grassroots members act as community leaders and party machinery in canvassing votes, the government's giveaways often act as indicators toward elections.

The Najib administration has also been working at addressing grumblings over the rising cost of living and housing issues.

Budget sweeteners -such as a RM6.5 billion allocation for the farming sector - which come into effect next month, will serve to soften the blow felt by middle and lower-income groups.

Mr Najib himself hasn't been shy in publicly asking for a bigger support block in the upcoming elections, telling female delegates at a Women In Politics summit on Monday that he would introduce a quota of female Senators if handed a stronger mandate.

His right-hand man, Mr Zahid echoed his sentiments.

"We do not want a win just to form the government with a simple majority through the first-past-the-post system, we want to command two-thirds of the Parliamentary seats with an even bigger majority," said Mr Zahid. "Most importantly, we shall possess the winning mentality".

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