KUALA LUMPUR: There is speculation that the general election could be held as early as next March.
“March has been talked about,” Bloomberg quoted an Umno division leader from a southern state, who asked not to be identified, as saying. “And why not? The opposition is not together. We are ready as we can be for elections.”
Another Umno division leader from a different state also told Bloomberg, March was being discussed.
A Bloomberg report said Prime Minister Najib Razak and senior officials of Umno – the backbone of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) – were exhorting members to meet potential voters, especially the younger ones.
One factor that could tilt the balance for a snap poll is the fractured opposition, which lost this year in two by-elections and in the Sarawak state elections.
But some analysts say weakening growth and the spotlight of global probes into billions allegedly embezzled from state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd are reasons for Najib to delay.
“Ideally, they would want to hold elections when people feel they are materially better off,” Sholto Byrnes, a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, was quoted as saying.
“Having it at a time when oil and commodity prices are so low, when there’s been a lot of fluctuation in the ringgit, negative talk about the economy — I would feel from those points of view, it’s a riskier time to hold elections sooner.”
Ooi Kee Beng, the deputy director of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, was quoted as saying: “Given how pressurised Najib is by events and by the scandals surrounding him, the need to strategise instead of wait is great. It should not surprise anyone that elections are called sometime next year.”
The BN may also want to tap the mood of patriotism as Malaysia commemorates its 60th year of independence next year. In Singapore, Bloomberg said, the ruling party retained power with a bigger majority in 2015 amid massive festivities for its 50th anniversary.
For the last election in May 2013, Najib waited until the last minute to dissolve parliament, after two years of hints, Bloomberg noted.
As he vacillated, the opposition grew stronger, giving the BN its worst result in more than five decades in power, including its first-ever loss of the popular vote.
The tables, said the report, had since turned. Infighting and policy differences have torn the opposition alliance apart, while the BN secured bigger wins in the Sarawak state polls in May and two by-elections in June.
And this happened while Najib was battling graft allegations and efforts by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to remove him.
The report noted that there were tentative signs the opposition was attempting to unify, and that Najib might not want to wait for them to try.
Najib’s office didn’t reply to a request for comments on the possibility of an early vote, while an Umno spokesman wouldn’t elaborate on the speculation, Bloomberg said.