KUALA LUMPUR: Rumours of an early general election are gaining currency in the country.
There is speculation that the general election could be held as early as March next year, although it is due only in mid-2018.
According to a report in The Diplomat, the idea of holding early elections rests on the notion that Prime Minister Najib Razak and his supporters perceive his political position as being stronger now than it will be within the next year or two relative to a weak opposition.
Despite being dogged by the corruption scandal linked to debt-ridden state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, Najib has in fact weathered the challenge well thus far.
Meanwhile, the report adds, Malaysia’s opposition remains divided and in disarray for now, with the splitting up of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition and its former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim behind bars.
However, it says, there is some hope for the opposition now with the formation of Parti Pribumi Bersatu by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and Najib’s ousted deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
There is talk of a likelihood of a new opposition alliance by the end of the year.
The Diplomat report notes that the stakes are higher than they have ever been for both Najib and Umno, given the fact that the ruling coalition lost its two-thirds majority in the last two general elections and even lost the popular vote to the opposition in 2013.
However, the report indicates, Najib may not be in a hurry to hold elections.
“If Najib believes that his current position is not as strong as it could be, especially with the country’s gloomy economic outlook, he could view an extra few months as an opportunity to improve on his record.
“And if he does not see the opposition as being as much of a potential threat as some are making it out to be, then he may think that he can hold the election further out. In making these decisions, Najib and his team will have to weigh the full set of perceived opportunities and threats.”
While the speculations are based on general factors, Najib, the report says, will have a more granular understanding of some of the specifics – from forecasts about its electoral fortunes in various constituencies to the number of potential defections within Umno – to enable him to make an informed decision.