KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Najib Razak is likely to call for a general election after the Chinese New Year next year, The Economist predicts.
A report in the respected weekly magazine said the 14th general election could be held between February and April.
This was because an earlier date would be difficult, given the problem of heavy rains and flooding, and waiting for August, by when the general election has to be held, would mean Najib’s nemesis Anwar Ibrahim might be out of prison, it said.
The Economist report said Anwar might be released as early as April, but it did not say why this would be so.
On Nov 6, Anwar’s daughter, and Lembah Pantai MP, Nurul Izzah, said: “We hope he comes out before his June release date.”
The prison term of Anwar, who has been jailed for sodomy, ends in 2020, but he could be released early as prisoners are usually given a one-third reduction of jail terms for good behaviour.
However, the conviction disqualifies him from contesting the next election.
The Economist report said despite the 1MDB scandal, the Barisan Nasional would likely win the general election and form the government.
The reasons for this include the manner in which Najib has handled the whole issue.
Noting that the opposition had been going to town with the alleged embezzlement of billions of ringgit from 1MDB by Najib and several others connected to him, the report said Najib had “worked assiduously to bury it, while purging opponents and distracting voters. He now looks ready to call – and win – an election”.
“Mr Najib does not dispute that roughly US$700 million entered his personal bank accounts shortly before the previous election, in 2013. But he says it was a gift from an unnamed Saudi royal, and that most of it was returned. (The donor, Mr Najib’s allies say, was Prince Turki bin Abdullah, who was just arrested for alleged corruption.) America’s Justice Department, however, says the money was looted from 1MDB.”
Najib has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
The report, saying the US, Switzerland and Singapore had conducted investigations into 1MDB, added: “In theory, Malaysia has too. But the only person convicted in Malaysia in relation to the scandal is an opposition politician who leaked parts of the auditor-general’s investigation because the government declared it an official secret.
“Mr Najib fired the attorney-general for pursuing the matter, and then other senior members of his party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), when they protested.”
The Economist report went on to say: “Although prosecutors show no interest in the billions stolen from 1MDB, they have thrown the book at the opposition. “
It said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim had been put behind bars for sodomy “on flimsy evidence”, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng “conveniently faces two sets of corruption charges” and two leaders of Parti Warisan Sabah, “set up by a former vice-president of Umno sacked as a minister for complaining about 1MDB, have also been scooped up in a recent corruption probe”.
The report said gerrymandering would help Najib and the BN win GE14.
“At the last election, although the opposition won 51% of the vote, it only secured 40% of the 222 seats in parliament. The election commission, with government-appointed members, has proposed boundaries for the next contest which will see even more of those who usually vote for the opposition, such as the ethnic-Chinese, crammed into huge constituencies, many of them urban.
“In practice this means their votes count for less than those of Malays in sparsely populated rural constituencies, who tend to favour Umno.”
Yet another reason Najib may win is that he is “showering voters with cash”.
The report noted that the RM280 billion budget for 2018, announced late last month, cut taxes for more than 2 million people.
“It also provides bonuses to some 1.6 million civil servants which will be paid in two instalments – the first in January and the second in June – with the election likely to fall between the two. Billions will be set aside for rural infrastructure too.”
Also helping a possible BN victory is the fact that Umno has positioned itself as the defender of Islam and is courting PAS.
But, the report said, not everything was going the prime minister’s way, with the Pakatan Harapan boosted by the inclusion of PPBM founded by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, which had gained traction with Malays.
The Economist said it was likely that Najib might call for the election just after Chinese New Year, which will be celebrated on Feb 16 and 17.