PETALING JAYA: Early polls could be on the way as Prime Minister Najib Razak ups the public relations ante amid the struggle to win over the Malay vote, says a Singapore daily.
In a report today, The Straits Times said many of Najib’s recent moves suggested that elections could be held in late October or early November as his key advisers urge him to take advantage of the country’s relatively stable economic outlook and the uncertainty within the opposition’s ranks.
Pointing to closed-door retreats with Umno warlords and the recent announcement of incentives amounting to RM1.6 billion for Felda settlers, the daily said “big public-relations splashes” in the near future such as the Aug 9 launch of the RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) were also telling signs.
Speculation has been rife over the timing of the 14th general election (GE14), which must be called by August 2018.
Political analysts have been split on the issue, with some saying that Najib will call for elections sooner rather than later.
James Chin of the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute said the longer Najib took to call for GE14, the more time Pakatan Harapan (PH) would have to organise itself.
However, Awang Azman Pawi of Universiti Malaya disagreed with the view that GE14 would be held between September and November this year.
He said a delay would allow Najib to take advantage of the “feel-good” factor, attributed to a series of national celebrations, Malaysia’s hosting of the Southeast Asian Games and a national budget for 2018 that is expected to be populist.
Earlier this month, Najib called for Umno delegates to prepare the machinery for GE14, fuelling further speculation on the timing of the election.
“Strengthen the bonds and rise together to prepare the machinery and line up strategies in preparation of the 14th general election,” he said in a post on Twitter.
According to the Straits Times report, though, the prime minister faces challenges in maintaining the support of the Malay community, which it notes is “deeply divided”.
Citing the pressures of dealing with the rise in cost of living and the spike in semi-urban and rural unemployment, the report said Umno has the edge “for the moment”.
“The main issue in the coming elections will be whether the Umno-led BN can convince voters, particularly the country’s Malays, that it is still the best candidate for the job,” it said.
Here, the influence of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose party PPBM is currently part of the opposition bloc, could prove crucial, it added.
Calling this “the Mahathir factor”, the report said the PH chairman’s leadership of the opposition could tip the balance in the alliance’s favour among voters who had traditionally voted for BN.