PUTRAJAYA: Global economic pressures could accelerate the timeline for the next general election, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob suggested in an interview yesterday.
“If the economy is not going to be good, we cannot drag (the elections) until next year or it would backfire on the government,” he told Nikkei Asia and other selected international media outlets.
Parliament’s term runs until July 2023, but Ismail warned that the combination of the Ukraine war, China’s strict border rules due to its zero-Covid policy, and the risk of a US recession do not bode well for Malaysia.
“China is our largest trading partner, while the US is one of our largest foreign investors, so when their economy slows down, it will directly impact Malaysia’s growth,” he said, according to Bloomberg.
He noted that Malaysia’s economy is among the best performers in Asean, posting an 8.9% growth rate for the second quarter, which brought its gross domestic product growth average to 6.9% for the first half.
Although Ismail hinted at the possibility of dissolving Parliament for an election while the economy is relatively strong, he conceded that not everything would be rosy for the ruling coalition if a vote were called soon.
“Even if it’s this year, there are lots of issues, including the cost of living,” he said.
There is also the matter of former prime minister Najib Razak’s ongoing final appeal of his conviction in the SRC International corruption case.
Najib’s appeal hearing in the Federal Court could wrap up as early as Tuesday, although the court has scheduled dates up to Thursday. The court may decide to conclude the case after Najib’s lawyer declined to submit arguments protesting the denial of a request for a postponement.
Ismail said the court’s decision could also affect Umno’s election chances.
“We do not know what the verdict is yet,” he said. “It’s very tough to predict the court’s decision; whether the sentencing is upheld or overturned, it will certainly have an impact on Umno and the ruling coalition.”
For months, Ismail has been under growing pressure from within Umno to call for early elections.
The prime minister has shown some resistance but may be coming around due to international factors. He would be the first Malaysian leader to pursue an election bid without being the president of his party.
Asked if he is distracted by intraparty politics, Ismail said the party is “welcome to give opinions” but that “whatever is happening does not affect my concentration in performing my duties, which are to manage the people and the country”.
“If I’m easily distracted by what is happening, obviously we would not have reached the 8.9% GDP, reduced the rate of unemployment from 4.3% to 3.8%, our trade (in 2021) would not have surpassed RM2 trillion (US$445 billion). These are our achievements,” he said.