KUALA LUMPUR - Murmurs of a possible general election at the end of the year have grown in Malaysia after two members of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin's party revealed on Monday (June 21) that it is gearing up for polls in the coming months.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin had reportedly indicated during a meeting with the Johor chapter of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) that an election could be called by the end of the year once Malaysia reaches a certain Covid-19 vaccination threshold and after the coronavirus-battered economy starts to recover.
"The party president asked that preparations be made for GE15, which could be held either at the end of the year or early next year," Johor Bersatu deputy chief Md Nasir Hashim said, according to a New Straits Times report.
Mr Nasir said that based on previous targets, herd immunity can be achieved in October or November, and this could indicate when a general election can be held.
Another Johor Bersatu leader, Datuk Osman Sapian, who is also the state's former menteri besar, said that a year-end election is a "huge probability", according to Malay daily Sinar Harian.
He said that polls could be called after Parliament approves and passes the next federal budget - estimated to be tabled some time in October this year.
However, both Mr Osman and Mr Nasir said that the decision to call for an election would depend on the rate of vaccination achieved by year-end. The target is to have around 80 per cent of Malaysia's population fully vaccinated by then.
Mr Muhyiddin, who also heads the Johor chapter of Bersatu, is currently the Member of Parliament in Pagoh, a constituency in the state.
He previously said that he would dissolve Parliament and call for elections once the Covid-19 pandemic has come under control in the country. But Malaysia has struggled to deal with Covid-19 for much of this year, and is currently in the third week of a full lockdown that is scheduled to end on June 28.
Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun told The Straits Times that there is a possibility of Mr Muhyiddin calling for elections this year and "consolidating his power".
Dr Oh said that some key leaders of Umno - a major partner in Mr Muhyiddin's administration that has threatened to pull its support for him - could yet be convicted and jailed in the various ongoing corruption trials, allowing the party to be taken over by individuals who are more amenable towards the premier.
"In that case, the two parties could come together and face an election by the end of the year. If he can get rid of the top Umno leaders, he is basically sailing free because those replacing them would be more amenable towards working with Bersatu," he said.
Bersatu is a splinter party from Umno. The latter's president, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and former prime minister Najib Razak are among those facing graft trials. Both have been openly critical of Mr Muhyiddin's administration.
In an address last week, Mr Muhyiddin said the country aims to return to a sense of normalcy by November this year, after ramping up vaccinations and also easing the burden on its healthcare systems.
The target is based on a Covid-19 exit plan drawn by his administration, which outlined four phases for Malaysia to gradually lift its restrictions.
Malaysia has not held any by-election or state elections this year after a state of emergency was declared in mid-January by the current King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, to deal with the Covid-19 surge. The Sarawak state legislative elections are due in August, right after the state of emergency ends on Aug 1.
But Umno has not called for an election to be held in the near future - with its elections director, Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, saying last week that the party is focusing on the Covid-19 crisis in the country.
Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) - another member of Mr Muhyiddin's administration - said on Tuesday that it was "prepared" for a general election should one take place at the end of the year.
Malaysia has been ramping up vaccinations. It hit a new record of 235,623 doses of daily vaccinations on Monday and aims to administer more than 300,000 doses daily in July.
So far, 4.38 million people - or 13.4 per cent of the population - have received at least one dose of vaccine, while 1.66 million people - or 5.1 per cent of Malaysians have received both doses.
The country recorded 4,743 new Covid-19 cases and 77 deaths on Tuesday, bringing its cumulative total to 705,762 cases and 4,554 deaths.